Shawnee schools seek second levy request

Officials say its passage will avoid an operating deficit and further cuts.

The 10-year, 7.59 mills levy request on the Aug. 6 ballot is the same issue voters declined by only six votes in May. If passed, it will generate nearly $2.5 million a year.

“We started two years ago with a community discussion knowing that we were approaching financial difficulty, and so we cut substantially over the past two years a total of $3.2 million out of the budget,” Superintendent Gregg Morris said. That situation was compounded by slashed funding at the state level.

District cuts during that time included 15 teachers, administrative staff by 1 ½ and support staff, he said.

While staffing cuts delayed the time the district would need new operating funds, it wouldn’t keep its books in the black forever.

Its five-year forecast filed with the state first projects a cash deficit of nearly $631,000 at the end of the 2013-14 school year, nearly $2.6 million in 2015 and, by 2017, more than $8.4 million.

“We did significant cutting before we reached this point and now we have to have this if we’re going to maintain the student progress we have,” he said.

If the tax is approved, it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $265.65 more each year beginning 2014, according to the Clark County Auditor’s Office.

The district has been rated excellent with distinction in recent years, and was 16th in the state this year in terms of student growth as part of the state’s new value-added component in its district report cards, according to Morris.

“From my perspective, Shawnee schools are very deserving of our support,” said district parent and Friends of Clark-Shawnee Treasurer Dana Engle. “We have one of the highest ranked school districts in the state from an academic perspective and we also have one of the lowest per student spending in the state.

“… and that’s pretty impressive when you consider you would expect a district with that kind of rating to also be spending a lot and the relaity is we’re not.” Engle said.

Engle has three children, a son who graduated in spring, a daughter who will be a junior and a son who will be in eighth grade. He became involved with the Friends of Clark-Shawnee before a renewal levy passed in November last year.

“It’s given me the opportunity to analyze the information and it’s made me even more convinced that (the levy is) necessary,” he said of being the treasurer.

A dozen responders to a Springfield News-Sun Facebook request posted last week seeking opinions both for and against the levy were in favor of it. No one submitted opposing viewpoints by the Monday afternoon.

One Facebook responder and a district resident, Jessica Rice, said “We need so much for our students, staff and schools. We have been OK working under these conditions but we can’t keep hanging barely.”

“Ours teachers, students and other staff members deserve only the best, the conditions they have been working in just prove that we are/can be/and always will be Shawnee Brave Strong,” she added.

The expected district shortfalls have also triggered a 20 percent student fee hike, a $50 club and organization fee, a pay-to-play model for athletics, elimination of one of 18 bus routes, and an additional 10 percent building budget cut.

High school athletes will pay $200 per sport and middle school athletes will pay $100 per sport. Those costs are capped at two sports per student, however, so they’ll only pay a maximum of $400 and $200, respectively for participation in three seasons, according to Morris.

Morris noted that Clark-Shawnee’s total taxes are currently the lowest of any district in Clark County. One other district has lower property taxes, but they also have an income tax, he said.

The board has already approved the first step of putting a levy issue on the November ballot in the event the August levy would fail. “We actually have to file the day after this election,” Morris said.

“The bottom line is we had a very lean budget before we started. We simply cannot cut our way out of this situation. If we could avoid asking, we certainly would,” Morris said.

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