Sunday, October 22, 2000
Levy Grade A-
LEVY REQUEST: A combined 1.84-mill bond issue worth $44.5 million and a 4.9-mill operating levy to raise $8.3 million annually. It would cost the owner of $100,000 home an extra $206 annually.
OTHER LEVIES: This is the same levy that failed in March. A 6.5-mill operating levy generating $8.2 million a year passed in 1996; the last bond issue passed in 1994.
IF LEVY PASSES: The bond issue would build two new schools and pay the first three years of a capital improvement plan. It will buy land, upgrade technology and add classrooms. The operating levy will stave off more program cuts and operate schools for the next four to five years. It provides 3 percent raises for teachers and hires new ones for 500 more students.
IF LEVY FAILS: Last May's $2 million in budget cuts would continue, and additional ones made to avoid a $1.8 million deficit by 2003. Forecasts show that without passing a levy or major spending cuts, Lakota will operate in a deficit the next five years. This risks state intervention and jeopardizes the district's bond rating.
Our recommendation: Managing this booming district is a financial high-wire act. It's now the largest suburban district in southwest Ohio, with more than 15,000 students from West Chester and Liberty Township. Growth continues to outpace construction, staffing and revenues.
This year, Lakota officials say they'll spend $4.9 million more than they'll get in state aid and taxes, even after $2 million in cuts. They'll have to use reserves and end the year with enough to operate for 11 days.
A cap on state aid is the crux of current budget woes. A 1998 law says Ohio districts cannot receive more than a 10 percent increase in state funding from the previous year, regardless of enrollment increases. It has cost Lakota more than $13.7 million since 1998, the largest dollar loss in Ohio. Without the cap, leaders say no levy would be on the ballot for another two or three years.
New homes and students bring some new tax money, but not enough to cover full costs. School levies don't increase with inflation because of state law. Lakota spends almost $800 less than the state average per student, but performs well above average. It expects to met 24 of the 27 state standards this year.
Combining a building and operating levy in a single vote makes good sense. Unabated growth puts constant demands on taxpayers. But many people move here because of the schools. Their school tax rate is higher than districts with more business and industry, but it's still average or less than many high-performing districts. Incomes are in the top 10 districts in southwest Ohio.
Lakota does a good job with less money than many and under much more pressure. The financial need is compelling. We recommend that voters approve it.