Several residents took time to address the Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) School Board of Education on Monday about the potential of another levy coming to the primary ballot in March.
Following about 30 minutes of executive session, the board discussed in open session aspects of the levy. The discussion focused primarily around what type of levy, when to place the levy and at what point it would have the most impact.
Several community members present also gave input on the levy. The first to speak was resident Jerry Shaw who said he believed it failed at the November election because there was not enough clarification about how the levy would be used and that retirement would be taxed, which is a problem for many on fixed income within the district. He also mentioned state funding money to the amount of about $7 million he had discovered the district receives that he wanted to inquire about. Finally, he said he and his friends are in agreement that moving the levy back toward an earned income tax levy would be the best course going forward and he is sure it would get the levy to pass.
WCHCS Treasurer Becky Mullins explained that while the district does receive that money there are a few caveats, the first is that $7 million will barely cover the district’s payroll and benefits, as monthly this can be up to $1.4 million for all staff members putting the total yearly amount around $14 million. She additionally explained that the money is also not a guarantee as by the end of the five-year forecast that was recently approved they are expecting that amount to drop considerably. Additionally, Director of Marketing and Communications Trevor Patton explained following the meeting that on average WCHCS spends about $2,751 less per pupil due to budget constraints. The board also acknowledged these facts and thanked Shaw for his comments.
Next to speak was Greg Phipps — Washington C.H. resident and Washington Middle School physical education teacher — who wanted to discuss the 1991 levy that passed. He said at the time he was not teaching locally, but felt the levy was incredibly important for the district and joined several local efforts to get it passed. Phipps said he joined committees and went door-to-door and assisted in informing the community. This sort of participation — though he said he felt it starting to surface during the most recent levy efforts — has not been seen yet and he urged the board to be the leaders of the district. He encouraged all of them to get out to speak at local organization meetings just like WCHCS Superintendent Tom Bailey and Patton did, and to join them in the levy committee to help keep people informed. Phipps said he believes it will help “trickle down” the behavior to other staff and teachers and he said he has been encouraging his fellow employees to do the same.
“We are all doing this for the same reason, we are doing it for them, for the kids,” Phipps said.
Another resident, Jim Duncan, spoke to the board to say the information about the levy was conveyed poorly. He also said for him he saw the efforts to pass the levy, but did not see the efforts of what the district is doing to save money. He urged them to take a look across the board to see what budgets are underperforming and overperforming and figure out where money can be saved. He also encouraged the board to look at the costs to run the buildings and if they can be managed more efficiently. Duncan asked them to convey the information better in the future and to ask themselves, “Are we just asking for money because we don’t know where it is going or are we asking (for money) if it’s something we need?”
During the meeting, Bailey did explain to the crowd and the board that starting in January they would be discussing potential cuts to the budget, but those would not have action taken on them until much closer to March or April once the district knows if it is going back to the voters. He also said that if a levy did pass next year, the district would not begin to see the funding for roughly another year and a half or longer.
Finally, newly-elected board member Dennis Garrison — who will take office in January — was in attendance as the board is keeping him informed to ensure a fluid transition when Jim Teeters’s term expires this year. Garrison spoke about the levy facts and shared similar numbers on money being spent per pupil and more.
“This school district is really on a severe handicap in terms of funding as we have 22 percent less funding from property than similar districts,” Garrison said. “Then on top of that many of these other districts also have funding from some sort of income tax. This board needs to come up with a decision, but when we do we need to be unanimous so we are steering this levy in the right direction. We do also need pretty wide business and community support about what kind of levy and when we want to leave it up to the voters.”
After about an hour of discussion, the board did not make any motions nor voted to place anything on the March ballot, but did acknowledge that they have until Dec. 18 to decide if they want to place the levy back on the ballot. With the board’s last meeting of the year on Dec. 16, the members will need to decide at that meeting what they want to do with the levy going forward.
As previously reported, the WCHCS 1 percent income tax levy for operating funds failed on Nov. 5 at the general election by 1,225 votes (50.56 percent) to 1,198 votes (49.44 percent) for the levy. With a difference of only 27 votes, the unofficial results were too close to call the night of Nov. 5 due to provisional ballots that still needed to be counted. The Fayette County Board of Elections certified the final vote totals in mid-November and the final vote count for the WCHCS income tax levy was 1,244 (50.65 percent) against the tax and 1,212 (49.35 percent) for the tax. Of the provisional ballots, 29 were confirmed with 14 votes going “for the tax” and 15 votes going “against the tax.”
Stay with the Record-Herald for a follow-up this week that will share some of the comments and concerns shared by community residents during the special board meeting Monday.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.