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Northeastern tries 3rd time for tax issue

High school busing, 40 positions were cut after previous request failed.

Northeastern Local Schools is asking voters for the third time to support an additional 1 percent earned income tax levy.

The Nov. 5 issue is the same that was rejected in November 2012 by nearly 60 percent of voters. In August, the issue was defeated by a margin of about 53 percent to 47 percent.

If approved, the levy would tax the incomes of residents who are actively employed and would exclude retirement pay and rental income.

A 1 percent income tax costs $400 a year for every $40,000 of earned income, for example.

Superintendent Lou Kramer said the levy is expected to generate about $4 million annually and would offset a projected deficit of $1.5 million deficit next year.

“We were projected to run a deficit this year, but we made hard choices that helped move us out of deficit spending,” Kramer said.

Kramer said that because of the string of levy failures, the district cut 40 administrative staff and teachers, reduced programs, cut high school busing and increased pay-to-participate fees.

If the levy fails again, Kramer said the district would consider additional cuts to administrative staff, teachers and classified positions. Pay-to-participate fees could also increase, he said.

A Facebook post by the Springfield News-Sun seeking comments about the levy garnered a mix of responses from those for and against the issue and others who complained that the government needs to fix school funding.

Nicole Holt, whose son is a high school senior in the district, said she plans to support the levy and encouraged others to do the same.

“Many people will argue they would rather vote no and pay the fees. The reality is not everyone can do that … We also need to stop focusing on the past,” Holt said.

Travis Aker said he cannot afford to have more money taken out of his paycheck and questioned what local leaders are doing to attract more jobs.

“The thing is, though, I am already taxed to death, especially being a single male. I already (have) over $200 taken out of my check every two weeks. It’s bad enough that I am living paycheck to paycheck just barely scraping by. Yet these schools want to put incomes taxes and take more money out of my check,” Aker said.

Kramer said officials understand the economic times and decided to place an earned income tax levy as a consideration for the elderly and retired population on fixed incomes.

“We have a lot of empathy for individuals that would see an additional tax as a burden … but the district is in a financial need,” Kramer said.

Kramer said a state budget rollback on income taxes will give residents a break as they will pay less on state income taxes for the next two years.

Kramer said a large portion of the district’s operating budget comes from local revenue. He said many districts are struggling and have been forced to make cuts.

“Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle for schools,” Kramer said.

He said he is concerned about the impact of additional cuts if voters again reject the income tax levy.

“The fear is we’ve already reduced programs. As we move forward, we’re going to have to cut more positions, and our class sizes will be affected,” Kramer said.

If the levy passes, the district would be able to immediately restore high school busing and “evaluate pay-to-play fees and hopefully reduce pay to participate fees.”

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