Belpre City Schools explains need for levy

Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn, left, gives a report Monday to the Belpre City Schools Board of Education as board President Brenda Church listens. (Photo by Wayne Towner)

BELPRE — In addition to its monthly business meeting on Monday night, the Belpre City Schools Board of Education also held an informational meeting to answer questions about a proposed emergency operating levy for the May 8 primary.

The board is asking voters to approve a 10-year emergency operating levy, which will generate $1.5 million a year for the district. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $24 a month, said Superintendent Tony Dunn.

In October, district Treasurer Lance Erlwein presented a five-year financial forecast, which showed the school system running out of money in early 2019.

The five-year forecast, which is based off economic trends from the previous three years, shows an eventual debt of nearly $5.5 million in fiscal year 2022.

About 30 people attended the town hall meeting held immediately after the board adjourned its regular meeting. Running for about 90 minutes, much of the meeting was a presentation by Erlwein about the district’s financial situation and how it has reached the point where an emergency operating levy is needed.

Belpre City Schools Treasurer Lance Erlwein outlines the school district’s financial situation and need for an emergency operating levy at a town hall meeting Monday night following the regular Belpre City Schools Board of Education meeting. (Photo by Wayne Towner)

Erlwein said the three main problems facing the Belpre district involve funding on the state and federal level. The state of Ohio has eliminated a key tax revenue which helped support Belpre called the Tangible Personal Property Tax, which is paid by commercial and industrial companies. The district formerly received $3 million annually through that tax, making up 30 percent of its budget, but that number has dropped to half as of this year.

The second problem involves state funding formulas which classify Belpre as a “wealthy” district based on those plants which are no longer paying as much TPP tax, meaning the district does not receive as much per-student state funding as it should, he said.

Finally, there are unfunded or underfunded state and federal mandates which impact the district, along with reductions in funding and grants which previously helped the district, Erlwein said.

The district has done all it could to keep costs at a manageable level — including a hiring freeze and other cost-cutting measures — but has reached the point where a new levy is needed to keep it moving forward at the same level it currently maintains, Dunn said.

“The bottom line is that we are being negatively affected by items that are completely outside of our control. The conclusion is that we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” Erlwein said.

While some have expressed concern that a new levy would be used for new construction and other costly measures, Erlwein said the levy as proposed only provides enough money to cover the loss of the TPP revenue Belpre is experiencing for the 10 years the levy will be in place.

Dunn said he and Erlwein will be available at the district office in the weeks leading up to the May 8 primary to answer questions and provide information about the district’s financial situation and outlook.

“We do need this levy to survive, that’s my one pitch,” he told those attending the meeting Monday night.

During the regular board meeting, the board took steps to bring the current school year to a close and began work on the 2018-2019 year.

The board approved 70 students for graduation on May 20 at Belpre High School, contingent on each meeting all requirements and responsibilities to qualify. At Dunn’s request, the board also approved the posthumous graduation with honors of a BHS senior who died recently in an automobile accident.

Dunn said kindergarten registration for the 2018-2019 school year was held in March and April, with kindergarten orientation scheduled for May 3. Appointments for kindergarten screening will be made at that time, with screening held during the first three days of the new school year.

The district will hold its Jumpstart to Kindergarten program from June 11-July 5 for incoming kindergarteners with little or no pre-school experience. The Elementary Summer School program will be June 4-21 while the Project Pass high school summer school program will be June 4-29.