SIDNEY — “Fasten your seat belts …”
With those words Sidney City Schools Superintendent John Scheu after members of the Board of Education approved placing a 3-mill, 5-year permanent improvement levy on the Nov. 8 ballot. A resolution to proceed to levy the additional tax was approved during a special meeting Thursday morning.
During Tuesday’s special election, voters defeated the PI levy by an unofficial vote of 1,472 (45 percent) for the levy and 1,739 (55 percent) against the levy. This was the board’s second attempt to pass the levy.
Before making the decision to continue with the levy process, Scheu and the other board members, along with levy committee members, weighed in on the subject.
“I’d like to thank Jayne (Smith, levy treasurer) and Ken (McElroy, levy chairman) for all the behind the scenes work they did,” said Scheu. “It’s not easy mobilizing workers for levy after levy.”
Scheu said in moving forward with the levy, one item remains a subject of discussion with the voters.
“The carryover balance continues to come up,” said Scheu. “That’s the one area of criticism I keep hearing. Five years ago, when I became superintendent, there was a known financial situation of the district.”
Staff members were laid off, he said. Salaries were cut and frozen. The district wasn’t able to pass a levy.
“We need to protect the carryover balance for emergencies,” said Scheu. “The $19 million carryover is healthy but if you look at the five year forecast, in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017, we show a deficit in spending.”
At the end of the five-year forecast, he said, the carryover balance is projected to be much lower than it is today.
Scheu said one reason for the projected decrease in the five-year forecast is the unknown factors of how much the district will receive from the state of Ohio in the next budget period.
“I’ve studied the voting patterns and trends from the past levies,” said Scheu. “At one time, the precincts around Emerson and the high school were counted on to pass levies for the district. None of them passed the levy Tuesday.
“We have always counted on them to offset other precincts where we have huge losses,” he said. “We have to energize the voters in the precincts we’re getting bashed in — Orange and Salem townships.”
Scheu said the district’s administrators were on a retreat in Piqua Wednesday preparing for the new school year. He met with them after the retreat and discussed strategy on how to get the district over the hump and get voters out in support of the levy.
“In my 37 years as a school administrator, there have been 22 levies I’ve been involved with,” said Scheu. “I’ve thought about the strategies we’ve used in levies that were successful.
“We need more contact with the voters,” he said. “We have to get them more energized. I think there’s many strategies we haven’t implemented yet. Whatever direction the board takes, the administrators will be there at 110 percent to get the levy passed.”
Board President Bill Ankney said he received emails from friends after the election saying they didn’t know there was a levy on Tuesday’s ballot. He replied to the friend that questions and answers were in the Sidney Daily News on a weekly basis and yard signs were all over the district.
“I think social media is another strategy that needs to be used,” said Scheu.
“With the demographics of the citizens of Sidney, a lot of people don’t subscribe to the newspaper,” said Renee Davis, who was co-chair of a previous operating levy which was approved. “They’re not on social media. You can go with direct mail, but they don’t read it.
“It’s much harder to reach people today and that doesn’t make sense to me,” said Davis.
Smith said the parents of children in the district have to be informed of what they levy means to their children.
“We also need to be solving problems that we can right now,” said Ankney “We have a lot of traffic problems at Sidney Middle School and Northwood and Whittier elementary schools. If we can find some solutions to that, this will impact a lot of people.
“It frustrates everyone when they get caught up in something (traffic jam),” said Ankney.
He’s also been questioned about the amount of millage being asked for on the levy.
Board member Bob Smith said in his neighborhood, the 4th Ward C, he was surrounded by signs about the levy.
“I was surprised it wasn’t closer than it was,” said Smith. The levy was defeated in his precinct by 23 votes, 77 for the levy and 100 against the levy.
Smith said the board and levy committee needs to look at how to convert the people who vote no and energize the people who normally vote yes.
“I’ve read that you need to target mothers of school children,” said Smith. “They don’t like their children sitting in leaky buildings.”
Smith said the nature of the November election may “pull out people who are predisposed to not support education.”
Davis asked if there was any correlation in precincts where the children are open enrolled out of the district and how the voters cast their votes.
Scheu said he didn’t have that information but it would be worth looking into. At this time, the district loses 625 students a year to open enrollment.
“The treasurer and I are working with similar districts who are working toward keeping local money here,” said Scheu. currently $5,900 leaves the home district and goes to the district where the student open enrolls.
“We feel only the state share should leave with the students,” said Scheu.
Board member Paul Heins thanked the committee for their hard work.
“We’ve still got the need (for the levy) and we know the need is there,” said Heins. “What we have to decide is if we’re going to put something on the November ballot. “There’s a lot of noise coming for the November election. We’re going to see both sides of the political arena. It’s going to be a real battle in November.”
Treasurer Mike Watkins said the big battle is getting people to understand the carryover balance.
“Some people will say we have too much money no matter how much millage we put on,” said Watkins.
Scheu said he’s concerned that if the levy doesn’t go on the ballot until 2017, that means another full year of using the general fund for PI projects.
“If it passes in May, we won’t collect any money until the following year,” said Scheu.
“I think it’s a matter of perception if we’re not putting it on the November ballot knowing lots of people will be coming out to vote,” said board member Mandi Croft.
Ankney tied academics and athletics together and how that affects voters.
“I love academics,” said Ankney. “But American society is sports minded. If you look at schools with a successful football team, you’ll see they pass their levies,” citing Piqua School District as one of those districts.
McElroy shared his thoughts on Tuesday’s election with the board.
“We need to concentrate on the voters who are supportive and said they didn’t know about Tuesday’s election,” said McElroy. “We need to look at how to get the word out by using social media and text messages.”
He has heard from people who don’t want to pay anymore taxes and salaries of the district’s staff members make a difference to them The carryover balance is also a big issue.
“The carryover is like money in the bank,” he said. “You might not need it today, but at some point, you will need it.
“We also need to get the support of all the Lehman parents,” McElroy said. “It’s my observation that you need to keep going forward. You need to stay after it. Don’t let it go down again.”
He said more personal contact is needed with the voters.
“We need a bigger effort than just hanging things on the doors,” said McElroy. “We have to communicate with the voters.”
Both McElroy and Smith agreed to serve on the November levy committee. McElroy said he would like a co-chair to assist him.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the board approved a resolution to proceed to levy a 3-mill, 5-year PI levy on the November ballot.
Watkins will be filing the resolution to proceeed, the resolution of necessity and the Shelby County Auditor’s certification with the Board of Elections by the Aug. 10 deadline.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.