Historic school tax vote: Butler County’s 1st try for new school security levy

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

caption arrowCaption
Half of Butler County??€™s public school districts have a new type of security tax on the fall ballot.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The stakes couldn’t be higher Tuesday for Butler County’s first experiment in school districts banding together to seek a tax hike. That’s because of the nature and purpose of Issue 2: Stopping potentially deadly attacks on schools.

ExploreMORE: Butler County voters in five local school districts will decide on new type of security levy

The 10-year, 1.5-mill school security levy sponsored by five of the county’s 10 public school systems — Hamilton, Fairfield, Monroe, Edgewood and New Miami — is the first of its kind in Southwest Ohio — and one of the first in the state — after lawmakers created the new school taxing option that allows schools to seek residential tax increases limited to paying for enhanced security.

The new Ohio school taxing law passed in March was a response in part to shooting massacres last school year that left dozens dead at two high schools in Florida and Texas, as well as other school shootings across America.

ExploreMORE: Hamilton Schools detail what proposed security tax will mean to schools

“The safety and security of our students, teachers and staff is something that can always be improved upon,” said Chris Brown, superintendent of the Butler County Educational Services Center (BCESC), which oversaw the formation of the five school systems into a single taxing district.

“Issue 2 would provide funding to hire additional school resource officers, strengthen preventative safety measures and expand mental health support where it’s needed most – in the classroom. Our districts are not unsafe by any means, but for some, these resources are spread thin or missing altogether.,” said Brown.

ExploreMORE: Fairfield school officials say new security levy will fund needed mental health services, armed guards

“By asking our communities to support student safety and well-being, we can bridge the gap for more than 28,000 students in Butler County for the next decade,” he said.

Issue 2 is radically different — in terms of electoral requirements for approval — than traditional, single-school district levies.

To pass, the total vote from all five districts must add up to a simple majority.

If voters in a school system do not approve the new tax — but the tax wins voter approval in other participating districts — residents in the district where the tax was defeated will still have to pay the tax increase and will also receive the new funds for their local schools.

If the tax issue does win a 50 percent combined vote tally from all five districts — plus one vote or more — the property increase will cost on average about $52 more in annual school taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home in Hamilton, Fairfield, Monroe, Edgewood and New Miami districts.

School officials throughout Southwest Ohio and beyond will be closely watching the levy’s outcome to see if this new tax option is a viable one.

Issue 2 has also made history by drawing extraordinary opposition, most notably from Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, who has sharply criticized the tax hike as a “money grab” by the five participating districts, contending they each have existing funds now to pay for enhanced security.

ExploreMORE: Sheriff and some other elected officials criticize school security tax

Larry Knapp, superintendent of the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, echoed officials in the other four districts who emphasized the importance of the tax funding mental health counselors for troubled students who might be prone to violence.

“We need to do more to help the children in need, and we hope the community will support these efforts. Hamilton tax money will stay in Hamilton. Money from this levy can only be spent on safety related issues, including mental health, security personnel - in our case Hamilton City Police as (armed) school resource officers and other safety related items,” said Knapp.

Russ Fussnecker, superintendent of Edgewood Schools, said “national and local safety and security experts all agree the single most important component, in addressing school safety concerns, is servicing the mental health needs of its students.”

ExploreMORE: Edgewood becomes first Butler County school district to have armed guards in all schools

In the largely rural district, passage of Issue 2, said Fussnecker, would “fund an increase in school professionals who have expertise in working with students who need mental health services.”

About the Author