GENEVA — School officials in Geneva are trying to pass the district’s first operating levy in 25 years.
The Geneva Area School District last passed a 4 mill operating levy in 1993.
Since then, it has put operating or emergency levies on the ballot three times, in 2011, 2012 and last November. The margin of defeat for these levies has grown larger over the years.
In November 2011, a 4.9 mill emergency measure was defeated 62-38 percent, while a subsequent attempt in a special August 2012 election saw it defeated 60-40 percent. And a 1 percent income tax on last year’s ballot went down 68-32 percent.
“In an emergency levy, the board of education determines the amount of money needed and the county auditor then determines the millage that would require,” Geneva Area City Schools Treasurer Kevin Lillie said. “In 2011 we had a $1.7 million emergency levy (requiring 4.95 mills) on the ballot and it lost and in 2012 we had a $1.6 million emergency levy (requiring 4.9 mills), which also lost.”
The district is taking its fourth stab in the last 25 years at passing new operating funding next month, by requesting a 1.25 percent tax on earned income for a 10-year period. It would bring in more than $3.3 million to Geneva coffers when fully collected after 2021, and officials say it would minimize cuts the district has enacted.
“Over the years the Geneva Area City School District has been frugal,” said Geneva Schools Superintendent Eric Kujala. “When a property tax levy failed in 2012, the district cut $1.5 million in budget funding. Nearly 60 teaching, resource, staff, coaching and advisory jobs were lost, and pay to play for sports started. When our November 2017 (school district income tax) levy failed, busing was reduced to state minimum and numerous positions were eliminated.”
Kujala said the last property tax emergency levy attempts in 2011 and 2012 failed, so based on community feedback, the board of education chose to try to pass an income tax levy this time around.
“The Geneva school district responded to our community’s concerns and requested a 1.25 percent SDIT on the earned income base so it would not impact various retirement funds and decided to limit the levy for a 10 year period,” he said.
The district will host an informational presentation on the levy 7 p.m. Monday at the high school auditorium. The event will include a review of information and a question and answer session.
According to I Support Geneva Schools, the average Geneva Area citizen or family making $50,000 would pay about $24 to $26 per bi-weekly pay check, or about $52 per month. Anyone with an earned income of $25,000 would pay about $26 per month.
A release from I Support Geneva Schools, a committee formed to promote the income tax, said unlike a traditional property tax levy, the levy does not tax pensions or Social Security. It would only apply to the earned income of anyone living in the Geneva Area City School District. The district includes Geneva, Austinburg, Harpersfield and Trumbull townships, Geneva and Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Other activities that would be not taxed under an SDIT include retirement income such as 401Ks, unemployment or workers compensation benefits, lottery winnings, interest, dividends, capital gains, rental profits, distributive shares of S corporation profits, alimony, distributions from trusts and estates and all other income that is not earned income. All these are exempt from the school district income tax. Also, farmers are only taxed on income rather than the usual Current Agricultural Use Valuation.
The levy only taxes wages, salaries, tips and other employment compensation and self employment income from sole proprietorship and partnerships.
While operating levies have not been successful, district voters have passed several bond and capital improvement levies over the last 25 years:
In May of 1994 the voters passed an .85 mill permanent improvement renewal levy with 55 percent support. A replacement for the issue was approved in May 1999 with 58 percent of the vote, after failing by less than 100 votes in November 1998. It has been renewed another three times since then, March 2004, May 2009, November 2013.
A .74 mills bond issue for the Geneva Public Library passed in May of 1995 with 55.5 percent support.
A 5.95 mill, 28-year bond for new school buildings passed in November of 2002, receiving more than 57 percent of the vote.
In May 2007 a new .5 mills maintenance levy for 23 years passed by an almost 2-to-1 margin, after being defeated in November 2006 51.5 to 48.5 percent.
Kujala said in January Geneva’s school busing was cut to state minimum and library and playground aides were eliminated, as well as maintenance, custodial and cafeteria jobs.
Up next on the chopping block if Geneva’s levy does not pass is Austinburg Elementary School. The school will be closed and its students redistributed to Cork Elementary and Platt Spencer Elementary, Kujala said. He also said there will be district wide cuts to staff, extracurricular activities and programs if the levy does not pass.
“Cuts will happen, at least temporarily, even if the levy passes,”
he said. “But passing the SDIT levy is the only way to ensure these reductions are temporary rather than permanent. If the levy does not pass the only question is how deep and
devastating the cuts will be.”
He said if it passes, Austinburg Elementary will be saved, but there will still be cuts for the 2018-19 school year. By the 2019-20 school year the district would begin restoring educational services. Then other services, like busing, would be restored.
Of the 607 school districts in Ohio, 587 received more money per pupil than the Geneva School District, 531 spent more per student and 563 districts spent more on administration costs than Geneva, according to isupportgnevaschools.com.
Last year’s total expenditure per student in Geneva was $9,390, which was over $2,200 less than the state average and the 77th lowest in the state, said the website education.ohio.gov.
Despite the smaller amount spent per pupil per year, school officials point to the fact Geneva schools recently received a B plus on the state report card, and last year Geneva High School received a National Ranking and earned a bronze medal for Best High Schools, as ranked by US News and World Report.
“The Geneva Area City Schools has a proud history of providing our students with an academically rich, well-rounded education,” said Kujala. “Our community has recognized the quality education we provide and our schools have received numerous awards over the years. It’s difficult to think about the cuts and discuss the reductions. No one wants to see our schools impacted with the loss of personnel or the closure of a school.”
He said he believed in the district and community and hoped voters would understand why Geneva needs to pass the tax May 8.
“As we move forward we will continue to do what we can to maintain the highest levels of service for our students and families while being fiscally responsible to our community,” he said.