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Levy reality faced by school district
Levy reality faced by school district
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
It's a matter a simple economics.
"As our costs go up, the revenues stay the same," Chardon School Superintendent Joseph Bergant II said. "And that gap keeps widening."
Mr. Bergant made that point last week in an appearance before Chardon City Council, when he appealed to the public for support of the school district's 5.95-mill continuing levy on the Aug. 7 special election ballot.
Illustrating the widening gap faced by the district, he noted that, in 2006, the last time voters approved a school levy, the price of a gallon of milk was $1.99, compared to today's $3.70. Gasoline cost $2.48 a gallon six years ago, compared to $3.35 today, he said.
State law freezes the amount that can be collected from school levies to the first year's level. Thus, school districts receive no more money, even if a community grows during the term of a levy.
Mr. Bergant said the fate of the upcoming levy and the schools will determine the fate of the community, as well. "Chardon starts with schools," he said.
The Chardon School District, which has been rated excellent for 12 years running, has a positive impact on the community, attracting new residents and bringing back graduates who value what it has to offer, Mr. Bergant said.
Like other districts, he said, Chardon depends primarily on local support. He said 63 percent of the schools' funding comes from real estate taxes, with another 4 percent coming from other local sources. The state provides 19 percent, he said.
State support for schools has diminished and will continue to do so, Mr. Bergant said. In 2006, the Chardon district was receiving about $6 million from the state annually, compared to $5.2 million now.
While state funding has shrunk, he said, unfunded mandates from the state have increased, further taxing the district's ability to balance its books. He said he is for raising the bar for schools, but it has added to the expenses that all districts must deal with.
Changes in school meal nutrition have improved the healthy choices offered to students, but baked french fries don't have the same appeal as fried ones, and students don't buy them, Mr. Bergant said.
Disability services are one of the most expensive mandates for schools, he said, and cost $100,000 per student per year to educate. When the mandates were implemented in the mid-1970s, Mr. Bergant said, federal officials promised 40 percent reimbursement in costs, but those reimbursements cover only 12 percent of the costs today.
The school district also has to implement new online state testing, meaning that it will have to come up with the money for software and supplies, he said.
The district been in a cost-cutting mode since 2006, eliminating $5 million in expenses, he said.
Parents have been asked to pay $225 per student per sport in a pay-to-participate program, Mr. Bergant said. Supplies and materials have been cut by 18 percent, he said.
Music, art, physical education and library programs all have been cut, and last year alone the district laid off the equivalent of eight teachers, he said.
Chardon teachers did their part in agreeing to no wage hikes the past two years, while offering to increase their contributions for health-care costs to 15 percent, Mr. Bergant said. That contribution is double the average for other schools in Northeast Ohio, he said.
An energy-conservation program has saved the district $890,000 over the past seven years, and 90 percent of the district's maintenance and new projects are done in house, he said. That enabled the district to save $200,000 when installing new high school boilers, he said.
The Chardon School District's overall cost per pupil is $10,297, which is below the state average of $10,697, he said. Teacher salaries are only about $200 above the state average of $57,904, Mr. Bergant said.
If voters approve the levy, the district will be able to restore six teaching positions and business, technology and art courses, as well as increase electives at the middle school, he said.
Without passing the levy, the district will double the pay-to-participate fees and cut in the areas of guidance, support staff, custodians, transportation, tutors and clerical, Mr. Bergant said.
People often believe the school administration is just making "threats" in an attempt to scare people, he said. "It's not a threat," Mr. Bergant said. "We must cut somewhere, and, without additional revenues, we're going to fail our students."
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