Youngstown board of ed bungles renewal of 10.7-mill property tax

I’ve been a newspaper reporter for 31 years and yet I still get surprised.

I want to thank the Youngs-town school board for throwing a curve ball I didn’t see coming.

The board waited until literally almost the last minute to try to approve a 10.7-mill, 4-year renewal levy for the Nov. 5 ballot.

Its members – or at least some of them – had a 3:15 p.m. Wednesday meeting. The deadline to get an issue on the fall ballot was 4 p.m. that day.

Four of seven members attended the meeting and only two of them – board President Brenda Kimble and Vice President Michael Murphy – voted in favor of the issue. The other two – Jackie Adair and Dario Hunter – voted no.

It’s certainly the right of Adair and Hunter to vote no.

Hunter explained his vote by saying that “the ballooning spending of this district on things that bear no relationship to the education improvement of children cannot be ignored.”

Of the three other members, at least two of them – Ronald Shadd and Tina Cvetkovich – favored putting the levy on the ballot.

The board waited until the clock nearly ran out to have this final meeting.

Public bodies wanting to put tax levies on the ballot can make those decisions weeks or months in advance of Wednesday’s filing deadline.

The Youngstown school board had plenty of time to put the levy on the ballot.

It’s a huge issue, raising $5,291,410 annually and was originally approved in 2008.

Members at a July 23 meeting didn’t take any action on the levy, wanting financial data from the administration. That makes sense.

But that information should have been requested months ago, particularly because of the uneasy relationship between the school board and the administration.

The levy doesn’t expire until the beginning of 2021 so the school board can put it in front of voters in the March 2020 primary as well as next November’s general election.

When I asked Murphy about it, he said the failure was not a big deal.

“It will be alright as there will be enough time to get it on the ballot next year,” he said.

Murphy won’t be around for that as he chose not to seek re-election in November after 12 years on the board.

The question though remains: if it’s going to “be alright” why did the board hold a special meeting the day of the filing deadline?

Among the more interesting candidates to submit nominating petitions by Wednesday’s deadline is Ron Verb, a longtime WKBN AM radio talk-show host.

It might be a challenge for Verb to stay on the ballot and on the air at the same time.

Given his choice, Verb is very clear: he has no intention of quitting his radio job if there’s an issue.

“That’s my life and my career,” he said.

The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the public airwaves, has various rules that could provide Verb with problems.

Of particular note is the “equal-time rule,” which requires radio and television broadcast stations to give the same amount of time to opposing candidates who request it.

The standards have been relaxed over the years, but there’s an argument to be made that WKBN could be required to provide equal time for free to the other candidates running for Austintown trustee.

There are four others who filed for the seat: ex-Youngstown Councilman Michael Rapovy; former Mahoning County Commissioner David Engler, who is an attorney; Poland Township police officer Steven Kent; and Bruce Shepas, who’s run for trustee in 2013 and 2015.

Anyone who knows Engler can easily imagine he’s going to ask the radio station for equal time should Verb be certified Tuesday to the ballot. That could also lead to the other candidates making the same request.

Regardless of what happens, it sounds like a giant headache for Verb and the station, which is supporting the talk-show host’s decision to run for office.