Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) Superintendent Tom Bailey and Director of Marketing and Communications Trevor Patton took time on Wednesday to address concerns with the upcoming income tax levy that will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
This coming Tuesday, residents within the WCHCS District will have the opportunity to vote for or against a 1 percent income tax levy to help maintain the schools for the next seven years. This is the first operating levy the school has asked for from the community since 1991, and overall this levy is expected to provide around $2 million per year and will allow the district to stay out of deficit spending as well as not have to make cuts this coming spring.
WHO PAYS THE INCOME TAX?
The first point the duo clarified was that this is not a property tax but a tax on income within the district. According to Bailey, while property owners may have seen an increase in their taxes due to House Bill 920, schools in Ohio saw no increase from the reevaluations, and WCHCS is still getting the same local dollar amount that it was getting in 1991 with no increase for inflation.
Another point of contention they have noticed from discussions around the community is what income is taxed over what income is not taxed. According to Patton, income that is not taxed includes social security benefits, disability and survivor benefits, railroad retirement benefits, welfare benefits, child support, property received as a gift, bequest or inheritance; and workers’ compensation benefits. Meanwhile, income that is taxed includes wages, salaries, tips, interest, dividends, unemployment compensation, self-employment to the extent included in Ohio Adjusted Gross Income (OAGI), taxable scholarships and fellowships, pensions, annuities, IRA distributions, capital gains, state and local bond interest (except that paid by Ohio governments), federal bond interest exempt from federal tax but subject to state tax, alimony received and all other sources. Regardless, both insisted that each person or household could be different and that taxpayers should seek advice from a tax advisor or their retirement company to see how it would impact them.
“So someone who is receiving some form of welfare and a wage from a job would pay,” Patton said. “The welfare amount would not be taxed while the wages from a regular job would be taxed and used for the district. Anyone paying any type of rent also usually ends up paying taxes because their money is being used for the property tax on their home, even if they are paying it to a landlord.”
WHAT WILL THE MONEY BE USED FOR?
According to Bailey, this levy will not pay for new construction at the football field, auditorium or anywhere within the district, but will go towards maintaining the district as it currently is progressing. That includes paying for the operation items like water, heat, electricity and more, such as staff salaries and supplies.
“Back in 1991 I started teaching and the starting salary was around $18,000 to $19,000,” Bailey said. “Our starting pay for brand new teachers is around $35,000. We have great people here in the district, great staff and teachers who are really dedicated to the message, but we cannot keep them if we cannot pay them what they deserve. If we do not pass the levy we are looking at having to cut 1/23rd of our budget and it doesn’t stop there unfortunately, as the next year, due to inflation, we would need to continue to make deeper cuts to extra- and co-curricular activities as well as personnel. We don’t have a lot of stuff to get rid of, I mean we could cut back on transportation as well, but we aren’t trying to focus on what to get rid of, we are focusing our energies on getting the levy passed so we don’t have to face those cuts. Regardless, the integrity of the academic program needs to be maintained and student needs are the priority, so if it comes to it we would analyze every aspect of the district to see where cuts could be made.”
Next, Patton and Bailey explained that the WCHCS district is among the most poor in the state because it is not as big as the City of Washington Court House. Some larger businesses that are considered within the city but not within the district include Wal-Mart, Home Depot, businesses along U.S. Route 22 near the skating rink, Doug Marine Motors, and some newer residential locations. These do not currently pay towards the WCHCS property tax base as they are not considered part of the district. Additionally when asked if it would be possible to annex some of these properties to the district, Bailey said it was unlikely.
“Usually, when a district attempts to annex areas into its district, it is being done to assist students, not as a way to increase revenue,” Bailey said. “If those who decide on the annexation think it is being done just as a money grab to increase revenue, then it is usually denied. Additionally, nothing against Miami Trace, but that would mean they would have to give us those businesses and I imagine they wouldn’t be able to, they have already budgeted under the impression these businesses would be paying so much money in property taxes. So it leaves us with only the option of going to the district (taxpayers) to help keep the district out of deficit spending.”
Bailey also said the district has and will continue to seek grants when trying to pay for the district’s needs, but usually money received in such a way must be spent specifically for one particular area or another, so it can be inconsistent on whether they receive the money and what it can be used for. He also said the district will continue to advocate at the state for a more fair system to fund schools through professional organizations, such as the state superintendent, treasurer and board of education organizations.
WHAT DOES THE COMMUNITY THINK?
During the recent WCHCS second-annual State of the District address, several community residents took time to give their opinion for or against the levy and voice concerns moving forward.
One resident and local business owner, Rob Herron, spoke about some concerns he had with the levy and the way the school is handling the information. He said the county average income of just under $40,000 leaves many residents in a tough spot if the levy passes. He said that despite the economy “firing on all cylinders,” Fayette County has not seen any such improvement since the 2008 collapse. He also suggested that district administration could do a better job of providing information about the levy so people could be better informed and not perpetuate bad information on Facebook. Finally, he suggested the community should see more positive stories about the district and that the people voted the current board in and could take them out just as easily, though he was impressed with the presentation of the State of the District address.
Another resident and 2004 Washington High School graduate, Zach Camp, spoke in favor of the levy. He said he returned to Washington Court House to raise his kids. Camp suggested that based on research, funding a school district usually has a return on invest of 11 to 22 times the value of the money spent. He said that this is the time to put a foot down and support their kids, as mainstream media paints children in a negative manner. However, he suggested that here in Washington Court House, he knows kids are not like that. Finally, Camp said, “It starts here,” and that the kids need to know they are respected, valued and cared for when they come to the district.
Resident Carl Marcus was next up to speak and took time to explain to the board why he will not be voting for the levy come Nov. 5. According to Marcus, he believes the issue is not a lack of funding from the community but from an overpaying of administration staff in the district. He suggested from information gathered that in total, 25 administrative staff make somewhere just under $2 million, and the average salary of the district is around $40,000, meaning administrators get paid two to three times more than teachers.
Marcus was upset with the idea that the WCHCS Board of Education and district administrators would ask for more money when he believes those employees are already overpaid. He said the district is not getting the results on the state report card that the money “we are paying” should be getting. He did commend the district for some improvements, but suggested that when 60 percent of the community is on assistance and “not paying their share,” that it is unfair to ask more of those who do pay. Finally, he said that the money they are taxing will impact retirees who live on fixed incomes and generally have more medical bills than younger members of the community who would support the levy.
Patton did clarify that the district only has 19 administrators — two less than the state average for a district this size — and some of the positions listed on the public records requested by Marcus are either outdated or not filled. Additionally, based on information from the Ohio Department of Education, WCHCS pays about $2,000 less per pupil than the state average.
The last community resident to speak was Washington Court House City Council member Dale Lynch. Lynch is a 1965 graduate of Washington High School and spoke in favor of the levy at the meeting. According to Lynch, he is supporting for many reasons, the first is that for him the WCHCS is the cornerstone of their community. He said many people will remember the city for one reason or another, but its residents who have gone through the district will know it as a very important part of the city.
Additionally, he said he will support the levy because it is one of the largest employers and largest sources of entertainment for the community. From athletic competitions to musicals and choir performances to band camp, the community enjoys seeing the students follow their talents. Finally, he said he wants to be able to give the same and even more opportunities to the students than what he had going through the district, but the only way to have the best is to pay for the best. He suggested it’s time the community help the district as they are trying to pay their bills in 2019 with the same money they had in 1991.
Finally, local resident, proud graduate and longtime supporter of the WCHCS, Mary Kay West, spoke to the Record-Herald about the levy.
She said, “When my sister, Terri, and I came of age to be registered voters, we were lucky. We lived in a house divided. One parent was a Republican and one was a Democrat. So we learned early on to be an informed voter. On candidates you need to look at their background and what they bring to the table. On issues you need to do your homework and find out what that issue is about. Our school district has a 1 percent traditional income tax on the ballot this fall. The Ohio Department of Taxation has defined any individual, including retirees, students, minors, etc., or estate that receives income while a resident of a taxing school district is subject to school district income tax. It is your right, responsibility and privilege to be an informed voter. Do your homework.”
“We live in a great country that we get to vote and exercise that right,” Bailey said. “So make sure to get out and support the kids. This levy doesn’t just have great implication for the district, but has a potentially great impact on the future of the community.”
Stay with the Record-Herald for part two where Washington Court House City School Board of Education candidates will explain their support of the income tax levy.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.