Twinsburg school levy renewal heads to May ballot

$4.4 million operations levy, passed in 1993, gets 'continuing' status

by Conner Howard | reporter Published:

Twinsburg -- Voters in the city's school district this spring may be asked to renew, and make permanent this time around, a 1993, 6.9-mill renewal levy that will generate about $4.4 million annually for school operations.

According to the Shirley DeCheco of the Summit County Fiscal Office, the continuing levy set for the spring ballot currently costs the owner of a $150,000 home roughly $250.35 per year. However, the effective millage of the levy, which currently sits at 5.4 mills, may change by the May primary, likely changing a district homeowner's property tax.

The Board of Education was set to vote Jan. 23 to put the renewal on the May 7 ballot. If the general operating levy is passed in the May primary, it would change its status from a general operating levy to a continuing levy, renewing automatically in the future.

The levy has to be certified by Feb. 6 by the Summit County Board of Elections to make the May 7 ballot, Twinsburg School District Treasurer Martin Aho said.

Superintendent Kathryn Powers said the operating levy, which produced about $5 million for school operations last year, provides a crucial element of the district's funding.

"Parents really count on us to provide the services that we currently are doing," Powers said. "Should the levy renewal not pass, then I'm back to the drawing board of what other reductions I need to make to balance ... because $5 million annually is a lot of money. What am I going to reduce and where are we going to go as far as raising revenues?"

Powers said failure of the renewal could lead to further program and staff cuts, as well as the implementation of additional transportation and participation fees, on top of the $3.2 million in reductions made during the 2011-12 school year.

"To not renew the levy would create a huge hole in the district's revenue stream and would severely compromise our operations," added Board of Education member Steve Shebeck. "This levy has been, and needs to continue to be, part of the revenue system for the district."

"It's a renewal, so it doesn't involve any tax increase, which we're very pleased about," added Board President Kate Cain-Criswell. "It is a very important source of revenue for the school district."

The levy, which does not represent a new tax since it was first passed at 6.9 mills in 1993 but which, if passed May 7, would become a continuing levy that no longer requires renewal, is set to expire at the end of December, Aho said.

The levy was last renewed Nov. 6, 2007, according to school officials.

This renewal and change to continuing levy comes on the heels of a new 4.9-mill levy passed in November 2012 that will generate a fresh $3.8 million annually for the district.

While he said he doesn't oppose the levy renewal itself, Twinsburg resident Matt Cellura said he doesn't agree with the decision to make it a continuing levy, saying the taxpayers could become stuck paying for a levy the district may not need years later.

"I would prefer to see it as something we'd renew in five years as opposed to a continuing [levy]," Cellura said. "I think there's too much up in the air in terms of the state budget and how schools are going to be funded. We already passed one continuing [levy] in November."

Powers said a continuing levy is a way for the district to stabilize its funding.

"The reason for that is trying to lock in the financial stability of the district," Powers said. "So we don't have to come back to our voters in five years and say 'hey, can you support us again?' What we are hearing from the community is, 'We're tired of it always being on the ballot.'"

Board of Education member David Andrews added that the spring levy renewal is an important part of a $7 million operational reduction plan the district implemented in 2011 to recover losses following a phase out of state money (the tangible personal property tax) over the last several years.

"We filled $3.2 million of that by cutting [58] positions and imposing, for the first time in Twinsburg, pay-to-participate fees and other students fees and taking a lot of steps to reduce expenditures," Andrews said. "The other $3.8 million of that $7 million hole came through with the levy that was passed in November."

Board of Education Vice President Paul Crosby confirmed that unspecified program and spending cuts would follow if the levy is not renewed.

"Hopefully, with the passage of the renewal, [the district will be] able to take the finances off that emergency-type agenda," Crosby said.

Powers said she hopes the Twinsburg community will support the levy renewal, given its importance to the well-being of the district and its status as a regularly renewed expense since 1993.

"I'm hoping it's not going to be a surprise to the community, because we've always been up front with saying that's the final piece to the operational change plan that needs to be put into place. With that, we have kind of solidified the financial plan for the district," Powers said.

Email: choward@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9423

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