ELIDA — When Elida voters head to the polls this November, they’ll be asked to vote on an item that hasn’t been on the ballot since 2005: a new school levy. Elida is asking for a 5-year, .75-percent earned income tax to generate funds that will allow the district to maintain current operations and avoid devastating cuts.
The district lost $1.6 million in funding in the latest state budget and must also contend with tax delinquencies and foreclosures, unfunded mandates and vouchers, losses in income from inflationary growth, interest and inventory tax.
“With inventory tax, we dropped $1.5 million to $250,000, so we lost $1.2 million there,” Treasurer Joel Parker said. “That’s good for businesses but not for schools who used to receive that money. We’ve been lean for a long time but now it’s really starting to pinch. We’re now at the bottom of the barrel with what we spend per pupil per year but we still manage to get a lot done with that money. We just hope to continue great programs, or what’s left of them.”
The decision to ask for an earned income tax instead of the traditional income tax is one the district hopes will be easiest on the taxpayers.
“We know the taxpayers are hurting. We’ve heard from senior citizens asking us not to tax their pensions,” Parker said. “We’ve found an option that doesn’t tax income from interest, retirement pensions or Social Security, disability or capital gains. If you’re getting your hours cut at work or your spouse loses their job, the tax reduces or goes away.”
“One thing we’ve heard over the last 20 years is that education has an over-reliance on property taxes,” Superintendent Don Diglia added. “So we’ve tried to find another way. This is the first time we’ve gone back to the voters since 2005. I think we’ve been good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”
Since announcing intentions to seek another levy, Elida has come up against the claim that the newly-erected high school building is the reason for the new levy.
“A big misconception is that we built this new building and now we don’t have enough money to keep it running,” Parker said. “But even if we hadn’t passed that bond issue in 2008, we’d still be back on the ballot this year. The new high school was an outstanding project that was completed on time and under budget and the new building out-performs the middle school building as far as utilities.”
Over the last decade, Elida has made $3 million in cuts including pay freezes across the board, closure of the Gomer kindergarten building, reduced bus routes and drastic cuts to staff.
“We’ve cut 43 staff positions over the last 10 years but our enrollment has stayed the same,” Diglia said. “We are literally at the exact same number with 2,561 students. The student/teacher ratio is now the highest it’s been since I’ve been superintendent.
“We’ve lost so many great programs,” he continued. “We had home economics and industrial arts at the middle school. We had a program called Success at the high school, a service program that was fantastic. We don’t have any of that anymore. Anything we cut now will directly affect the kids in a negative way. This levy isn’t about bringing back any of these programs, it’s about maintaining what we have. We need this to stop the bleeding.”
If the levy should fail, Elida will need to cut $750,000 more a year, forcing the loss of programs considered staples in today’s educational system, such as physical education, arts and music programs and full-day kindergarten. The district fears cuts like these will make it nearly impossible to meet the requirements of the rising educational standards and maintain high ratings on the district report card.
“Kindergarten and the earlier years of education are the years that set students up for success later in their education and in life,” Parker said. “If anything, we should be focusing more on kindergarten and I think statewide we should even be working more on pre-school. Cutting back on kindergarten is something that would be tough on our kids. It’s not the direction we need to be going in.”
Even with the bleak financial forecast and the hits Elida will take if the levy doesn’t pass, Parker maintains an optimistic outlook concerning the voters of Elida.
“I read a survey recently that said 77 percent of people in Ohio love their public school,” he said. “One thing that’s been made very clear to me over the last couple years is the support we have from the Elida community. We have a lot of great Bulldog fans out there.”