Oregon schools plan more community meetings to sell levy

Kelly J. Kaczala

        The Oregon Board of Education recently voted 4-1 to officially place a 4.95 mill levy on the March 17 ballot.
        School Board President Carol Molnar, and Board Members Michael Csehi, Heather Miller and Keith Kennedy voted in favor. Board Member Jeff Ziviski was opposed.
        The board had passed a resolution by a vote of 4-1 on Oct. 24 that authorized the treasurer to send a copy of the formal resolution to the Lucas County Auditor to certify the valuation and dollar amount of revenue that would be generated by a levy if approved by voters.  Similar to the vote on the resolution in October, Molnar, Csehi, Miller and Kennedy voted in favor. Zivisky was opposed.
        Ziviski said there has not been a proper discussion or review of data on putting a levy on the ballot.
        “I am not saying the district doesn’t need the money. Anyone looking at the five year forecast can see we are in a spending deficit. What I am against is how the board went about it. A majority of people won’t just give you money if you say you need it. They need to understand how you got there and why you need it. It’s a journey you take together. The district this year plans on holding public meetings to provide information to the public on the need for the levy.
        Treasurer Jane Fruth said at the last board meeting on Dec. 18 that revenues remain flat.
        “I don’t think they can be more flat than they currently are,” said Fruth. They are .1 percent compared to the prior year. Expenses are trending 5 percent higher.”
        Ziviski told The Press that he acknowledges the financial challenge that lay ahead of the district.
        “The district’s expenses have been flat for the past 10 years but is now forecasted to increase $2-$3 million annually,” he said. “The district cannot ask the community to make up its deficit with only levies. There needs to be a certain level of fiscal management and control in place for the district. It’s true that school funding leads to schools asking for new levies every three to five years. Normally, communities are supportive of the levies. But they also want to see the benefits from these levies and a plan. As the district goes through these discussions in the coming months…I want the community to have accurate and complete information so they can make their own informed decision.”
Levy campaign
        Superintendent Hal Gregory said a levy committee has been formed and has started to “frame out the campaign.”
        “Now that we know where we’re headed, that will be intensified,” he said. “I’m so proud of our community volunteers working on our behalf, the confidence of the people we have talked to. We have worked very, very hard internally and externally over the last five years to put us in a position that the community will support us. We’re going to do everything we can in the next three months to tell our story even better than we’ve told it before.”
        He said the district has the lowest voted millage in Lucas County “and it would remain one of the lowest with the passage of the levy.”
        He also said employee salaries are at the bottom of all Lucas County schools.
        “The funds we do secure from this levy will allow all of our programs to continue and expand, and that is the key message for everything. We value every single program that we have. If we didn’t value them, we wouldn’t have them. We are scrutinizing programs every single day and every single year. The benefit of the multiple programs we have in the district is we have kids that need multiple types of programs. We have a variety of kids. We want to keep what we’re doing and even expand them going forward. Schools and communities are interlocked. We know this. Strong communities support their public schools. I know we have a strong community. In my 17 years in the district, I don’t think we’ve had more momentum in this area than we have right now across the region,” said Gregory.
        Dean Sandwisch, assistant superintendent, said on Thursday that the levy committee was expected to meet that evening.
        “That’s when they are going to set up a schedule of events. We’re not having forums per se, but will be speaking before targeted groups, such as parents groups, fire, police, and the senior center. They are mapping that out,” said Sandwisch.
        More information on the levy is on the district’s website at www.oregoncityschools.org/LevyInformation.aspx
   If the levy passes, it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $173 annually.
        “I did get the numbers back from the auditors,” said Fruth at the Dec. meeting. “We would begin collecting in 2021.” The total amount collected annually would be $2.81 million, she added.
        The last time voters approved an operating levy in the district was on Nov. 3, 2015. The district continues to collect on that levy annually because it is not renewed by voters. It is permanent.


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