Tuscarawas Schools Hoping To Gain And Keep Money On Election Day

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Tuscarawas County has three local school districts with proposed tax levies on the upcoming ballot.

Both New Philadelphia City School District and Newcomerstown School District are on the ballot for renewal tax levies for 6.9 mills and 5.9 mills respectively. If the New Philadelphia City School District levy passes it would be the fourth time voters decided to renew it since 1994. The district has close to 3,000 students. Both levies will be over a 5-year period. Fairless Local School District, which is located just north of Tuscarawas in Stark County, is hoping to obtain an additional tax levy for 8.9 mills over a 7-year period.

However, New Philadelphia was just granted a 7.2 mills emergency levy during the May primary, generating new money for the district, which will go into effect January 1, 2016. Steven Sherer, the school district’s treasurer, said that receiving the emergency levy makes receiving the additional levy even more important.

“To go back now and lose a levy that’s already in place kind of puts us back to starting ground again,” Sherer said.

Sherer said that 80 percent of the money from the renewal levy will go toward the salaries and benefits of the school districts 215 teachers, New Philadelphia City School’s biggest expense. During the last five years the district has cut close to 12 teaching positions.

Newcomerstown schools district is also hoping to pass a renewal levy, which brings in $750,000 annually. The last time the school saw new money was 10 years ago.

Jeff Staggs, Newcomerstown superintendent, said the majority of the levy money goes toward personnel but also serves as a general operating fund that supports district construction, equipment and busing.

“Our evaluation is not very high so our budget is always very tight, so we’re constantly doing budget cuts like reducing personnel and writing grants,” Staggs said. “We’re just trying to find ways to keep the school funded.”

Unlike the previous two districts, Fairless Local Schools District is on the ballot for an additional levy. If passed, the levy will help generate $1,568,000 annually for the school district.

The last time the district received any new money from the community was May 1996.

“We want to be efficient and we want to be frugal,” said Broc Bidlack, Fairless Local Schools superintendent. “We know it’s been 18 years since this community supported us with any additional revenue, so we want to be very mindful that we want their commitment to last as long as possible.”

Bidlack said the money generated from the levy will go toward operating the school district.

During the 2008-2009 school year, Fairless started experiencing decreasing revenues, which forced the district to make significant cost reductions. Since that school year, the district has made nearly $4 million in reductions annually, which included cutting 40 staff positions, 22 of which were teachers.

“We’re about educating our students,” he said. “It takes people to do that relationship building and educating that’s required and needed for your students.”

With the cutback in teaching positions, class sizes at the elementary and middle school levels have grown. High school elective classes and tutoring programs have been cut as well.

Bidlack said he has heard many parents and community members in support for the tax levy. However, he has heard that those opposed to the levy believe the district is asking for too much money.

He said that if the community trusts the school district with their children’s education, they need their financial support to help educate future generations.

“It’s about the entire community rallying together and working together. The health, wealth and longevity of a community are based on how well the school district is doing. In turn we are going to do our best to offer the best education possible and to make good decisions with their financial commitment.”