Sunday, October 24, 2004

Tutor needed to grasp school funding?



By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer Staff Writer

GLOSSARY
• Bond levy: Property tax levies used to provide the local revenue for construction purposes. Proceeds from the levy are used to pay the principal and interest on construction bonds. Offered for a specified dollar amount and a specified period of time.
• Continuing levy: Levy proposing millage rate or school district income tax that is assessed indefinitely.
• Emergency levy: Limited levy proposed up to five years for a specific dollar amount. The millage rate required to produce the dollar amount changes on all types of property if property values change.
• Millage: Factor applied to the assessed valuation of real and personal tangible property to produce tax revenue. A mill is defined as one-tenth of a percent or one-tenth of a cent (0.1) in cash terms.
• Operating levy: Levy used primarily for district operating purposes.
• Permanent improvement levy: Limited or continuing levy used for maintenance and repair of school property, and, in some limited circumstances, for renovation and building projects.
• Renewal levy: Voter approval to extend the term of a limited levy when it expires.
• School district income tax: Income taxes apply only to personal income and do not apply to the net profits of corporations.
Source: Ohio School Boards Association
There may be 309 contested school tax issues on Nov. 2 ballots in Ohio, but there is one thing most people familiar with such issues can agree on.

"School funding is too complicated," says Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association. "Most people don't understand it."

Ebright said the complexity of how Ohio public schools are funded is reflected in the different types of tax issues voters can see on the ballot.

Jeni Brodsky, a Fairfield school parent, agrees.

She is campaigning to help the 9,500-student school system in Butler County avoid a fifth consecutive levy defeat.

"A lot of people don't understand the way schools in Ohio are funded," said Brodsky. "The terms for the tax issues are complicated, and it shouldn't be like that."

Fairfield's property tax increase would raise $6.4 million annually. Some of the money would be used to return bus service for high school students.

In Warren County's Kings school system, voters are deciding on a tax levy that would raise $3.2 million annually for the 3,800-student school system.

Veteran Kings Board of Education member Roger Jones explains there are three different types of levies: operating levies, bond issues and permanent improvement levies.

But Jones said it is even more important to understand what happens after people vote to raise their property taxes for local schools.

"The most critical thing people need to understand is that when they pass a levy, school districts do not later receive more money due to inflationary increases over time," says Jones.

He said state law approved in the 1970s automatically rolls back inflationary increases, freezing the amount of tax money a school system can collect during the life of the levy.

"Like everybody else, our bills and salaries go up all the time, but there are no inflationary increases - and that absence of an inflationary mechanism is the reason school districts have to keep going back to voters every four or five years," says Jones.

E-mail mclark@enquirer.com




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