Tecumseh tries 11th time for levy

One resident says taxpayers cannot afford additional revenue.

In August 2004, Tecumseh Local Schools asked voters to approved a half-percent income tax levy.

Nine years and 10 attempts later, voters still have not approved a levy for new operating money for the school district that will face a deficit of $815,000 in 2015, according to its current five-year forecast.

The district has made more than $8 million in cuts since 2004, resulting staff reductions and changing all-day everyday kindergarten to all-day every-other-day kindergarten.

The district has also reduced course offerings, eliminated high school busing, increased pay-to-participate fees to $250 per activity and closed Medway Elementary.

“We have done our best to make sure we are being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars,” Superintendent Brad Martin said.

Tecumseh officials hope voters will support a 5-year, 12.37-mill levy for operating expenses on the Nov. 5 ballot. The funds are expected to bring in $3.5 million and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $432 annually.

“We started out small (with the half-percent income tax request in 2004), but the need has been getting larger and greater,” Martin said.

Martin said officials understand the effects of the tough economy on area residents, but he said the district must continue to try to pass an operating levy to prevent further cuts from hurting student education.

“We can’t let this go because it is important and its vital to our kids. If we don’t continue, the state oversight committee is going to step in,” Martin said.

Longtime resident Larry Hall plans to vote against the levy and has posted signs urging his neighbors to do the same.

Hall said he and others have voted against the previous levies largely because they can’t afford to pay higher taxes, especially in this poor economy and with health care costs on the rise.

“The people can’t afford it. They have already voted it down 10, 11 times. If they cared about the people, they would come up with another plan,” Hall said. “These people are losing their jobs, losing hours at work. They’re really struggling to pay their bills.”

Hall said the majority of the funds from the levy would pay staff salaries and benefits.

He said the district has a “spending problem” and said administrators and staff should take a pay cut instead of asking area residents for additional funds.

Hall said officials have redistributed their funds and have made cuts that hurt the youth while preserving salaries.

“Every time they cut anything over there, it only pertains to the kids. They don’t cut anything that pertains to them,” Hall said. “Their expenditures should change. There’s a difference between redistributing and cutting.”

Martin disagrees.

He said Tecumseh has the lowest teacher salaries in the area, staff has had pay freezes the last two years and they have agreed to pay more for health insurance.

“They have not seen an increase in salary in the last four years,” Martin said.

Martin said about 80 percent of the district’s $26 million budget goes to operating costs, comparable to other school districts and service businesses, he said.

About 15 percent of the district’s funds goes toward electricity and heating and fuel costs, he said.

Martin said if the November levy fails, the district will end 2014 with no cash reserves. The district will face a deficit of $815,000 in 2015, a deficit of $3.7 million in 2016 and a deficit of $8.6 million in 2017.

He said officials have cut teaching positions in English, math, science, social studies, foreign language and in other programs.

“The cuts we have made have hurt our kids. They need a certain number of credits to graduate, and we have few course offerings. The staff has felt it when we’ve made reductions,” Martin said.

Frank Sweeney, a real estate agent in New Carlisle, said he has voted for previous Tecumseh levies and plans to support the levy on the November ballot.

Sweeney said the string of levy failures will impact home values.

“Parents with school-age kids will certainly take that into account and move on. It will be a detriment to home values if it continues. It’s not a good thing for the community,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said he’s seen signs in favor and against the current levy.

He said the economy and frustration with government leaders has likely played a role in levy failures, but he hopes the district has a different outcome in November.

“I’ve supported it every time … I sure hope it passes this time,” Sweeney said.

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