Third Ross Schools tax levy in 9 months headed to May ballot

ROSS TWP. — As predicted in 2022 by Ross School officials who see a deepening district budget deficit, local voters will now see a third consecutive tax levy on the ballot in 2023.

And it will be the largest of three proposed school tax hikes put before voters in a nine-month period.

Ross officials are now in the process of having the Butler County Auditor’s office certify a property tax millage amount to put on the May 2023 ballot.

The proposed 9.4-mill property tax increase comes in the wake of smaller, failed school levy issues in November and August.

School officials said recently the district’s looming operating budget deficit is growing and state law requires all public-school systems to address such shortfalls primarily through asking local residents to increase their school taxes.

Ross Schools Superintendent Chad Konkle released a message to the community where he detailed the district’s financial struggle, noting: “There are two ways to get out of deficit spending — either bring in more revenue or spend less.”

Prior to and after the district saw voters in August reject a 5-year, 7.9-mill, emergency property tax levy district officials have cut programs and personnel trying to save $1.8 million from its annual operating budget.

Konkle said the projected budget deficits range from $791,629 in 2023 and increase to $2,460,709 in 2024 up to $5,758,818 in 2027.

He added “we attempted to increase revenue with a request for a 7.9 mill operating levy in November of 2022, but it was not approved by voters.”

Among the many results last fall from the ballot loses, the district now has the highest student sports participation fees in its history and may face future busing cuts, elimination of music, arts and physical education classes among other sweeping program and personnel reductions.

In January, the Ross Board of Education voted to put a five-year, emergency 9.4-mill property tax increase on the May 2 ballot with the prospect of partial state takeover of the school system looming larger should a third consecutive tax hike be rejected.

“We have cut approximately $1.8 million from the budget the past two years. We have slated to cut another $600,000 in personnel costs from the budget beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.”

But Konkle said “cutting costs will not be enough to eliminate the deficit.”

“Eliminating the deficit entirely would likely require eliminating dozens of positions, and as I said when discussing our last levy request, I do not believe we have dozens of positions that can be cut and maintain appropriate class sizes and safety in our buildings.”

Ross board member Andrew Schnell said during a recent meeting another levy loss would be further harmful to the district, which in recent years has consistently been the top academic performer among public school systems in Butler County.

“We’ve made a lot of cuts in the last couple of years. If we can’t get it (levy) passed in May, the (budget) cuts that are coming will fundamentally change this district. And it pains me to say that,” said Schnell.

“We really need a strong push in the next couple of months to get this levy passed.”

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