Sunday, October 22, 2000

Loveland


Levy grade A-

map
        LEVY REQUEST: A 7-mill operating levy to raise $3.5 million annually for four years. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $245 a year.

        OTHER LEVIES: A 5.6-mill operating levy generating $2.4 million annually passed in 1996. A 1998 bond issue for $32 million, to build a new intermediate school and renovate others, passed in 1998.


GRADING THE LEVIES
Suburban schools
By the numbers
Edgewood
Lakota
Little Miami
Norwood
Talawanda
        IF LEVY PASSES: It will hire teachers and staff for a new intermediate school (opening next year) and for 250-300 additional students over the next four years; cover increased operating costs for additional building, more classrooms and buses, plus inflationary hikes and 3 percent annual raises for teachers.

        IF LEVY FAILS: The $1.7 million cuts from this year's budget would become permanent, and there would be more undetermined cuts; voters would be asked again in 2001 to avoid a $3.5 million budget deficit.

        OUR RECOMMENDATION: Growth and building have dominated this district for the past decade, with more than 100 new students every year since 1990. They've built a new high school, intermediate school and additions to five schools. Enrollment is expected to slow in a few years, but not before another 300-plus students arrive.

        This steady growth has been managed well, involving the community at every step. Sound planning is a mantra. Credit goes to strong leadership from the board and superintendents and to residents who've approved two bond issues in the 1990s. When buildings are completed this year, there'll be enough room for current and future students and programs. Now, the district needs more money to staff and operate them.

        School construction is on budget and on time. The district's credit rating was upgraded to “AA,” which saves money on borrowing now and in the future. It saves more than $700,000 on the 1999 bond issue alone, and allowed the district to refinance its debt to save over $1.1 million. This is one message to taxpayers that district finances are well managed.

        This district stretches into three counties — Hamilton, Clermont and Warren. It does an exemplary job of communicating with residents and involving them in decision making. The plan specifies exactly how levy dollars will be used, down to the number and type of new hires and more. (Voters should call and ask for it.)

        In 1998, residents were surveyed to rank what they want from their schools. (Basic skills in reading, writing and math were first.) Leaders use that survey and others as a compass in spending decisions.

        Loveland is an upscale community with steadily rising property values, but homeowners are the schools' major taxpayers. Less than 20 percent of local taxes come from business and industry, and the state share amounts to 38 percent of the total.

        Property valuations per student, an indication of a community's capacity to raise taxes, ranks in the middle of the Hamilton County pack, but residents' incomes are above average. When measuring tax effort (property taxes paid as a percent of personal income), Loveland District residents pay less than Madeira, Mariemont and Lakota (similarly dependent on homeowners), but more than Talawanda and Edgewood, according to 1997 Ohio tax records, the latest published.

        Loveland spends less than half of Hamilton County's 22 districts and below state average, but it has higher than average student marks. Students pass 23 of 27 state performance minimums and standardized test scores are above national averages.

        There's community pressure to compete with high-performing neighbors such as Mason, Indian Hill and Madeira (which spend more per student to operate), and there's competition from private and religious schools which draw about a fourth of students in the district.

        Loveland has done an exceptional job of managing teacher salaries — schools' largest expense. While many districts' average raises have increased faster than the 12.4 percent inflation rate over the past five years, Loveland's rose only 8 percent, according to the Ohio Public Expenditure Council. This is due in part to a prudent mix of new and veteran teachers to avoid too many in the top pay levels.

        District leaders inspire confidence and trust. They communicate forthrightly. They keep costs and projects on track. Board governance is traditionally expert and watchful. There's no doubt that good schools are key to rising property values here.

        This levy is sizeable, but it's wisely limited to four years. It would boost the annual operating budget about 5 percent and cover 3 percent projected enrollment costs. With Loveland's trustworthy record, it's a sound investment for taxpayers. We recommend they vote “yes.”