Ross and Talawanda schools face budget cuts in wake of levy losses

School families will soon be hearing district officials in Ross and Talawanda schools talking about budget cuts and in some cases deep ones in the wake of tax levy loses in those two communities.

Only Kings Schools saw a tax levy ballot win locally Tuesday as both Ross and Talawanda had levies rejected by voters.

The stakes were highest for Ross Schools as that district, which now faces preliminary state takeover of some financial decisions due to a looming and unresolved budget deficit, has already seen its leaders spell out some program reductions after Tuesday’s defeat at the polls.

Ross Superintendent Chad Konkle said in a concession statement to the Journal-News: “Needless to say, we are disappointed in the outcome.”

Voters in the rural Butler County district rejected again a 5-year, 7.99-mill, emergency operating property tax by a margin of about 61% to 39%, according to unofficial vote tallies from the Butler County Board of Election.

In August the same proposed school tax hike was defeated by Ross voters by a 64% to 36% margin.

Ross officials had campaigned since August and warned a second voter rejection of more local tax revenue would force the district to soon after fall under the financial supervision of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and the Ohio Auditor’s office as required by state law for school systems with unresolved budget deficits.

School officials now face making historically deep budget cuts in one of Butler County’s most consistently top performer school systems, which has regularly ranked among the best in ODE’s annual report card.

And, as required by Ohio law, Ross must plan to return to the ballot in 2023 and continue to do so until voters approve a school operating tax.

The next levy will have to be higher and school officials have stated they are currently considering either an 8.99-mill or a 9.85-mill proposed property tax increase for a yet-to-be-determined election date in 2023.

Among the possible budgets cuts are reductions in school busing, elimination of arts, music and physical-education classes for K-8 and fewer advanced high school classes, said Ross officials.

Already in place due to the first levy loss in August are higher school sports participation fees, which went from $150 per sport, before August, to $825 with no family cap for such fees since.

“There will be hard discussions in the upcoming months,” said Konkle.

Ross school parent Mandy Rice led the pro-levy campaign and said “I can’t help but be sad by the result.”

But, Rice said Tuesday’s election had a different and more optimistic mood about it in the community.

“August felt very negative. This time around it was evident that more community members were informed and they understood the full picture,” she said.

“We just have to get more people to see the full picture and get them to the polls. Our teachers and students deserve it. Our work for a levy in 2023 starts now.”

The next meeting of the Ross Board of Education is Nov. 17 with a board work session at 6 p.m. and a full board meeting at 7 p.m., both in the Ross High School media center.

Talawanda’s voters rejected the district’s proposed tax hike of a 5.7-mill continuing operating tax by 66% to 34%, according to unofficial county ballot tallies.

Talawanda’s pro-levy campaign faced one of the more organized opposition efforts among the three campaigns, organized by the Citizens for Responsible and Ethical School Spending (CRESS) anti-levy groups.

Like Ross Schools, Talawanda officials had pointed to changes last year in Ohio’s school funding formula as one of the major factors in causing their projected budgetary shortfalls.

Talawanda Superintendent Ed Theroux recently said: “Districts like Talawanda are expected to have their taxpayers make up the difference - through property taxes and levies - to pay for their schools.”

But, said Theroux, “the new (2021) student funding formula from the state was not positive for Talawanda. While other districts receive more of a state share per pupil, the simple fact is Talawanda does not receive enough money from our state share to pay for the services, education, and programs found at Talawanda.”

Talawanda Spokeswoman Holli Hansel said the work of considering budget reductions will start soon.

“With the defeat of the operating levy, our board of education will now face the difficult work ahead of determining next steps to deal with Talawanda’s impending financial crisis,” said Hansel.

The district’s governing board is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17 at Talawanda High School.

Officials in southern Warren County’s Kings Schools had campaigned with a public message emphasizing a similar problem of inadequate state funding — and a growing student enrollment — as prompting them to ask residents for a school tax hike of 6.4-mills continuing operating tax.

Officials have said since the passage of the last operating levy approved by voters in 2016 and Kings enrollment has since increased by 597 students resulting in increased expenses.

That levy was projected at the time to last three years, but Kings stretched it out for six years, they said.

And voters in the Kings’ communities of Kings Mill, Landen, Deerfield Twp. and South Lebanon voted “yes” to the property tax hike with the Warren County Board of Elections’ unofficial ballot results showing it winning by a 55% to 45%, according to unofficial results from the Warren County Board of Elections.

Kings Spokeswoman Dawn Gould said the levy win is a victory for the entire school community.

“We are humbled by the results of this election. The Kings community continues to demonstrate its value in high-quality education for our students,” said Gould.

“And we are thankful for the countless hours from our staff, parents, and community members in educating the community on the need for new revenue. We are fortunate to have such a supportive community that will enable us to further prepare students for career and college.”

About the Author