School leaders launch security tax campaign, hope to persuade sheriff

Local superintendents started their campaign push for a school security tax hike Tuesday, saying new funds for mental health counselors for troubled students in some ways outweighs getting more armed guards.

The joint press conference of four superintendents from Hamilton, Fairfield, Edgewood and New Miami school districts launched the public campaign for a new type of collective tax increase voters in participating districts will see on the November ballot.

Monroe Schools is also seeking the levy, but leader Kathy Demers was unable to attend the press conference.

Officials from the Butler County Educational Services Center hosted the press conference at its Hamilton office and said afterwards they also intend to try and change the mind of the security tax levy’s biggest critic to date — Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

The Journal-News was the first to report last week that Jones — a long-time advocate for arming some school staffers to protect buildings against attacks — is characterizing the proposed tax increase as “a money grab” and said he plans to oppose the levy.

But the four superintendents said once voters better understand the wide-ranging, beneficial impacts of approving the 10-year, 1.5-mill security levy, they will be swayed.

The new Ohio school levy allows for taxpayers’ money to go directly to paying for all types of school security — including armed guards or staffers — as well as safety technology and additional mental health counselors to better identify and help students who may be candidates to lash out through deadly violence.

“Society is not what it was five years ago, 10 years ago or even two years ago,” said Fairfield Superintendent Billy Smith.

“We (superintendents) have been having lots of conversations about students’ readiness to learn, and mental health is a huge barrier for the students we serve and it’s a huge barrier for learning,” said Smith.

Rhonda Parker, superintendent of New Miami Schools, agreed, saying “the mental health piece is so necessary. That is the top priority.”

Because of the lack of funding “there’s a gap between who can be served and who can not,” said Parker.

The 1.5-mill levy, which will cost on average about $52 more in annual school taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home in each of the five participating school districts, will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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.

Should the new tax issue earn a combined, winning vote total from all five districts, it would impact more than 28,000 students in the five participating school systems.

The stakes are high and so too is the early campaign contentiousness, with Sheriff Jones publicly blasting Hamilton City Schools officials — and others backing the levy — for pursuing the tax hike rather than paying for security upgrades now with existing funds.

After Jones had posted a downtown Hamilton billboard in June questioning the city schools’ commitment to improved security, school officials later reversed their intentions on adopting Jones’ idea of allowing some trained staffers access to firearms.

BCESC Superintendent Chris Brown said after the press conference the five superintendents will ask Jones next week to meet with them in an attempt to change his stance.

Jones, however, told the Journal-News the school leaders are wasting their time.

“I have no interest in meeting with them,” Jones said Tuesday.

“It’s a big, 10-year money grab and they are only interested in meeting with me because they want me to support their levy and I won’t do it,” he said.

Jones said he’ll continue to criticize the security levy campaign and eventually voters in Hamilton, Fairfield, Edgewood, Monroe and New Miami will decide the tax issue’s fate.

“It will be up to the public,” said Jones.

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