After a loss in May, the Middletown Board of Education has decided to return to the ballot in August to help assure adequate funding to deliver a level of education Middletown students have always expected and been provided. The May issue asked voters to approve a $4 million renewal and an additional $3 million in new money for a total of $7 million. In spite of continuing and ongoing cuts made by the district, the district still needs $7 million just to keep pace with the rising cost of doing business. Since the failure of the May tax issue, the school district has been forced to make dramatic cuts to avoid a 7 million dollar shortfall.
We still need $7 million. However, the August issue is lower than the May issue --it still asks Middletown voters to approve the $4 million renewal, but now asks for an increase of only $1.5 million.
This is important: The Board isnít asking for less because the need is any less Ė they are asking for less because the Governorís proposed state budget (which has not yet been passed, and wonít be until June) provides more funding for Middletown Schools than was expected.
Hereís what happened:
1.) Our new Governor, the Honorable Ted Strickland, assumed office at the same time that he was required to submit a new two year budget to the Ohio Legislature (Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate). This is the budget that determines funding for all state operations and responsibilities, including the stateís share of funding for public education in Ohio. Since the Governor was new to office, he was granted an extension and did not submit the budget for consideration and debate by the Ohio Legislature until March 15, 2007.
2.) Schools are required by law to establish the amount to be placed on a ballot 75 days before the election Ė which means for a May election, we had to decide in mid-February. This was a full month before anyone knew what the Governorís proposed budget would include. Our school district had no way of knowing if the new proposed state budget would mean more money for us locally, so the Board placed an amount on the May ballot that would prevent a $7 million dollar shortfall.
3.) Since March 15th, the Ohio House of Representatives has debated the Governorís proposed budget and recommended approval of their version in April. The Senate has not yet approved the budget.
4.) Our treasurer, Mr. Eric Sotzing, recently received projections that indicate the proposed House of Representatives budget would mean an increase for Middletown City Schools. We are not sure we will get this increase until the Ohio Senate approves the budget and it is signed by the Governor. There is risk in assuming we will receive all of the money proposed in the new House version of the budget until it passes the Senate and is signed by the Governor.
After spending four days and sleepless nights struggling with the dramatic program cuts that severely impacted our students, staff and community and also recognizing our voters clearly said no to the amount of new taxes being requested on the May ballot, I woke up Saturday morning and called our treasurer, Eric Sotzing, to calculate how much we could reasonably reduce the August levy, if we received all or most of the increase proposed in the House version of the state budget.
After analyzing the preliminary state budget numbers, Mr. Sotzing and I both agreed we could reasonably reduce the amount of new money being requested on the August ballot by $1.5 million. We also both agreed to fully disclose to the Board of Education and the community the risk involved in counting on a proposed state budget that was not yet signed into law.
On Saturday, May 12, 2007, the treasurer and I recommended to the Board of Education that a tax levy be placed on the August ballot that would ask for $4 million of renewal and a $1.5 million increase. The treasurer and I also advised the Board that even if the August levy passed but the state budget did not come in as projected, cuts would still need to be made.
State Senator, Gary Cates was also in attendance at this meeting. He advised the Board that although he could not guarantee the state money until it was signed into law, based on his years of experience in the Ohio Legislature, he thought it was a risk worth taking. The Board also thought the risk was worth taking on behalf of the Middletown taxpayers and approved the recommendation.
Passage of the August levy will mean the recent cuts approved by the Board of Education can be avoided. Our students will be assured of the same opportunities all past Middletown students have received. That is something our students and community deserve.