TPS asks for operating, renovation leviesWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Public Schools will ask voters to approve two levies Nov. 4, one to renew operating costs and the other to authorize renovation and improving current facilities.
Issue 34, which allocates $15.7 million for necessities, such as heating, lighting, security and transportation, has been on the ballot every five years since 1991. The levy, which is labeled as an emergency requirement, aims to supplement a decrease in state funds, according to TPS Superintendent John Foley. He said that, although the current tax does not expire until next year, the districts must establish the 2009-2010 school budget by June, and a rejection by voters would mean drastic cuts.
“It’s significant to lose that amount of money in the budget given the anticipation that the revenues from the state and other places are going to flatten out and not be necessarily available to us,” Foley said. “We anticipate that the next biannual budget will be a tough one from the governor, so we’re projecting a flat budget. But the question of why we need money is to continue what we currently have and not asking for additional funds.”
The levy does, however, ask for a 10-year renewal as opposed to a five-year renewal in years past. The most recent levy passed in 2002, authorizing new operating dollars for the district. Foley emphasized the importance of renewing the funds in order to continue TPS operations and that taxpayers actually would pay a smaller amount than in the past, which would be distributed among property owners as a lump sum and not a rate charged against their home values.
“It’s actually going down; it was 4.9 mills and the current projection is 4.8 mills,” Foley said, “and in the past it’s been renewed every five years. We are asking for renewal for 10 years because we just feel that, given that it’s been in the books since 1991, it would certainly allow us to be able to project 10 years out and not have to be on the ballot every five years.”
Opponents such as Steven Flagg, spokesman for the Urban Coalition, on the other hand, believe Issue 34 and Issue 35 are premature. He said the capacity at many schools remains below the maximum, and the district could redraw boundaries to accommodate the student populations. If, for instance, Libbey High School, which houses about 640 students, combined with Scott High School’s approximately 770 students, one facility would suffice.
“I know that there’s political ramifications [for redistricting], but I don’t think they’ve made all the cuts that they should, and as a consequence, I see this levy also as premature, Flagg said. “And if you add in the fact that it’s a year early — it doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2009. So it comes a year early with a budget that we, frankly, have a whole lot of questions about. A ‘no’ vote in November will not cut any funding for TPS this year or next year.”
To Flagg, Issue 35, which appropriates $37 million to improve facilities, “robs Peter to pay Paul.” He said only one facility, Waite High School, needs the attention TPS claims, but it hasn’t been scheduled for renovation. He agreed that the city needs a facility on the east side of the river; however, the remaining plans to renovate translate into nothing less than “greed” on the part of the district.
The levy also would suppress efforts to draw residents and businesses under an atmosphere of declining population.
“There’s something wrong here in an environment where we’ve got pretty high unemployment, a city where the property tax rates and income tax rates are as high or higher than any of the surrounding suburbs when you combine them together,” Flagg said. “How are we going to retain citizens and businesses, let alone attract them, if we continue to raise the taxes? At some point in time we have to bite the bullet.”
Foley denied waste within the school budget, saying the district has been “pretty fiscally prudent.” Also, failure of the levy would preempt placing a new issue on the ballot in time for the 2009-2010 school year because there is no election planned in March as there have been in past election cycles.
“That’s the potential, but there is no primary so it would have to be a special election,” he said. “And to do that the district would have to pay for that special election in addition to the costs of raising a campaign.”