Ross Schools vote leaves district leaders stunned

Voters in Ross Schools rejected a hike in the district’s earned income tax, leaving school officials surprised by the loss.

It was the first time in nearly two decades voters did not approve an increase in the earned income tax that funds the rural Butler County school system.

Voters Tuesday rejected a 0.5 percent hike to the existing .75 percent income tax by a 53 to 47 percent margin, according to unofficial ballot tallies from the Butler County Board of Election with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

The tax was to fund improvements in school security, the restoration of high school busing and other operations in the 2,800-student Ross school system in southwestern Butler County.

“To be honest, we are very surprised,” said Scott Gates, superintendent for Ross Schools.

“We talked to many individuals in the community who pledged support for (the tax). They had also shared with us that many people they knew favored the additional earned income tax,” said Gates.

Ross already has a permanent .75 percent earned income tax, which was first approved by voters in 2005, helping to fund the largely rural school system. The income tax school taxing option is rarely used among Ohio’s 613 public school districts and largely favored by bedroom communities with relatively small business tax base.

An earned income school tax is assessed against salaries, wages, and self-employment earnings only. All other types of income — such as pensions and interest income — are excluded from the tax.

In recent years, Ross Schools has consistently scored among the highest in the state’s annual report card rankings among all Southwest Ohio school systems. The most recent state rating saw the district earn an overall grade of “B,” while no Butler County district earned an “A.”

“We will roll up our sleeves and determine what course of action to take in 2019,” said Gates. “I do want to thank our community of supporters and everyone that worked on the campaign.”

Originally, Ross was among the districts — Hamilton, Fairfield, Edgewood, Monroe and New Miami schools — who came together to form a taxing district that led to Issue 2, a 1.5-mill school security tax hike.

But Ross officials later dropped out of the group deciding to instead pursue the 0.5 earned income tax so as to not have two school tax issues on the same ballot.

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