The historically high number of school levies on the Aug. 7 ballot proved no more fruitful than years past with 31% of issues approved by voters.
The August special election featured 36 school tax issues around Ohio, which is a high for August elections over the past five years, according to Support Ohio Schools. Eleven of those issues received majority support.
Of the 26 additional operating levies, six passed at a rate of 23%. Six of seven renewals were successful, and all three school construction issues failed as did a permanent improvement levy, the group reported.
August special elections are plagued by low turnout as voters are often on vacation, so low passage rates have been the norm.
“August election results followed a typical pattern with districts experiencing limited success,” Ohio School Boards Association Director of Legislative Services Damon Asbury said in a release. “The major take-away is that districts must still continue to try due to budget shortfalls.”
The 23% rate for additional operating funds, however, is below the historical average of 35%, Support Ohio Schools said. That figure is double last year’s August passage rate of 10.5% but a drop from the 46% passage rate of those issues in March.
“Wild swings in election results are becoming the norm,” SOS Executive Director Jerry Rampelt said. “Even in this election there are surprising results. Groveport Madison in the Columbus area and Brecksville Broadview Heights just south of Cleveland had over 70% of the electorate support their levies.
“Contrast this to the 18% positive vote in the Jefferson Local Schools near Ashtabula and 14% positive vote in Osnaburg Schools near Canton. Both Brecksville and Groveport have had recent difficulties in passing levies. The one vote loss (222 to 223) in Jackson Center Local Schools in Shelby County was disheartening.”
OSBA sees the increase in overall school levy requests as related to decreases in state funding, declining revenues and a lackluster economy.
“Ohio public schools are facing unprecedented funding challenges,” OSBA Executive Director Rick Lewis said. “In many cases, school districts have no choice but to turn to their communities to help maintain the high-quality instruction and services residents have come to expect.”
Greg Lawson, Buckeye Institute statehouse liaison and policy analyst, said the levy results are a “resounding message” from taxpayers.
“Clearly, taxpayers have yet to be convinced that many school districts are making the kind of reforms necessary to justify digging deeper in their wallets,” he said in an email. “This even after the ‘sky is falling’ mantra that is being pushed across the state.
“The bottom line is that failure to reform collective bargaining last year does not mean that reform is no longer needed. District officials and school boards should be the first ones demanding changes instead of complaining about Columbus politicians.”
The Ohio Municipal League said school levies faired better that local tax requests from communities. Twenty one of the tax issues were for police and/or fire, emergency medical services, road repair or local government operations.
“Our folks continue to struggle with getting voters’ approval to increase income tax rates to even do some special levies,” OML spokesman Kent Scarrett said in an interview. “We’ve known that our residents are just at their limit of taxation and it’s going to be difficult next year when we see greater cuts in the local government fund and the phase out of the estate tax.
“The trend right now obviously isn’t where tax payers are willing to increase these levels,” which makes circumstances more difficult for local governments.