Michael D. Clark reports:
The stakes are high for Lakota’s fall levy and the school board Monday evening raised them further for residents, promising to restore some of the district’s recent, historically deep budget cuts should voters approve a tax hike.
Lakota school board members signed on to the district’s plan to partially restore school busing, add some art, music and gym classes, boost after-school participation and add technology to individualized learning by using $2.8 million of a proposed levy.
Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia told the board prior to their agreeing with her spending plan that she has heard plenty from school parents in recent months as to what they want to see restored. The district has cut $20.8 million from its annual operating budget over the last three years.
“I heard that busing would be a big help to families,” said Mantia.
More than 8,000 students have lost busing in the last three years as Lakota has seen voters reject three school levies since 2010. Lakota voters have not approved a new operating levy since 2005.
The board agreed to restore busing for students in grades 2 to 6, who live between one and two miles from their school, with $1.3 million if the new levy is approved by voters. The change would bring back busing for more than 2,200 students.
Board members also agreed to spend $1 million on new technology and modernized coursework and starting a 7-period school day for ninth graders. Members also approved $250,000 more for an additional period of art, music and gym for grades 4-6 and $250,000 for funding and lowering fees slightly for student extracurricular activities including sports.
Mantia said in the last three years, 600 students have withdrawn from Lakota extracurriculars as the district cut programs and raised student fees.
“Increasing student participation after school is so important,” said Mantia.
Southwest Ohio’s second largest school system is headed to the Nov. 5 ballot with a combination 5.5-mill tax levy, which includes a 3.5-mill operating levy and a 2-mill permanent improvement levy combined into a single 5.5-mill continuous school tax hike issue. The new property tax would raise a $13.8 million annually for Lakota’s yearly $144.8 million budget.
If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $192 annually in taxes.
Lakota school parent Colleen Pyron of Liberty Township liked what she heard.
“A lot of things have been chopped,” Pyron said. “They have really trimmed back programs and class sizes are creeping up.”
But Dan Varney, treasurer for NoLakota – an anti-school tax levy group that campaigned during the district’s last three unsuccessful tries to raise property taxes – accused Lakota officials of trying to manipulate voters by enticing them with $2.8 million of possible restorations of some budget cuts.
“It’s how they play the game and they are trying to instill some passion in the school parents” to drum up votes for the proposed property tax increase, Varney said.