In the March 17 primary election, Big Walnut Local Schools is requesting the continuation of a 5.45-mill substitute operating levy, with collection continuing in 2021.
The levy substitutes a current levy, but the district stresses this is not a new tax. The original 5-year levy was approved by voters in November 2010. Voters approved the renewal in May 2015. District residents are currently paying $167 per $100,000 property valuation through 2020. This amount would be annual if the levy were passed, and it would not have to return to the ballot every five years.
“Every five years, when the levy is set to expire, it places our district at a financial cliff,” states a page on the district’s website. “That makes it difficult to plan, and it puts at risk the great work we are doing. Moving to a continuing levy would secure these funds for the future.”
According to the district, the levy represents about 12% of the district’s current operating budget, funding day-to-day operations. Big Walnut voters also passed bond and permanent improvement levies in 2017, but those funds can only be used for capital projects.
“Our schools operate on a tight budget that only gets thinner every year because our increases in revenue are not keeping pace with the costs of new students coming into the district,” the district’s website states. At Big Walnut Board of Education meetings, there is frequent praise from staff and administration about trimming costs while maintaining education standards.
“Big Walnut compares favorably, offering a great quality of education and our schools are a good value to residents,” states the district’s website. “We have a lower tax rate than nearly all the other school systems in the area. We pay a lower tax rate than almost all of our local comparison districts such as Olentangy, Delaware and Westerville.”
The group Eagle Pride Community is campaigning on behalf of the levy. However, district staff are making the rounds at township and village meetings, providing information to the officials. Superintendent Angie Hamberg and Treasurer Jeremy Buskirk spoke at the Sunbury Village Council meeting held March 4.
“Any time we have a levy up, we need it,” Hamberg said. If the continuing substitute levy failed, she said teachers and classes not required by the State of Ohio could be cut starting in the 2020-2021 school year.
Buskirk said the district has experienced nearly a decade of continuous growth in terms of enrollment. While a school district’s reputation can play a factor in attracting new residents, the district has no control over growth in a community, it was noted. In addition, just because one sees new homes, taxes may not be immediately collected on those properties.
Hamberg said that Big Walnut, which comprises two villages and six townships, doesn’t “have a lot of commercial or industrial tax base here” to increase revenue streams. However, the district does project more new homes and students in the future.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.