School safety: Could taxpayers soon fund a school security tax?

The leaders of Butler County’s public school districts are learning more about a new taxing method that would spread the costs of security through a collective approach involving other school systems.

The new Ohio school tax law went into effect in March, and it has already captured the interest of some local school officials as a possible way to share the often daunting costs of improving school building security.

School district members of local county educational service organizations can now form “county school financing districts” (CSFD). If their boards vote to do so — and local governing boards for each member school system also vote for such action — the new taxing districts can ask taxpayers to fund a specific school security tax.

Monies generated by the new county school tax could then be used only for school security expenses – including hiring security personnel and contracting for mental health and social work personnel for students.

It’s new and it’s complicated.

And perhaps needed, said some school officials, citing the increasing incidents of potentially deadly threats directed at schools both locally and nationally.

The more than three dozen Butler County school officials from the county’s 10 districts had plenty of questions for the school tax experts during an informational meeting Wednesday sponsored the Butler County Educational Service Center (BCESC).

But the initial reaction from some local school officials were positive enough for them to want to know more, which will happen in the coming weeks as BCESC officials conduct more meetings.

“It’s certainly worth a look,” said Billy Smith, superintendent of the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools. “We have said all along that we are being open-minded when it comes to safety and security.”

“We are here tonight to explore this opportunity and to hear what they (school tax experts) have to say about it. It could be another tool in the toolbox and we are here to learn,” said Smith.

Setting up a county school financing district requires votes by the governing board of the BCESC and local school boards. Tax millage amounts and how the tax revenue would be distributed should voters approve such a levy — options for that calculation include property valuation in a school system, student enrollment or number of school buildings.

School districts, through majority votes of their locally elected board, can also opt out of the new county tax district.

Those opting out would not be taxed but also would not receive any of school security tax revenue generated by a countywide tax.

The program is so new that only one of Ohio’s 88 counties has embarked on the process on installing the new tax district option so far.

Scott Gates, superintendent of the rural Ross Schools of 2,950 students, said he has more questions but also plenty of appreciation for the officials with the county education service for laying out the options.

“School safety is a complex issue that needs a collective and collaborative approach,” said Gates. “The information we received tonight will assist school district boards and leadership teams in having quality discussions about the best way to finance additional school safety needs.”

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