AURORA -- Citing state cutbacks of several million dollars in the past few years and expected flat state funding in the next two years, the Aurora Board of Education is placing a 5.9-mill levy for additional funds on the May 2 ballot.
District officials say the local schools have experienced recent losses of $2.4 million per year, or roughly 4 mills, in state funds. Seventy-five percent of school operating funds come from local taxes, and the upcoming levy would generate about $3.7 million per year for a continuing period.
If the levy passes, officials say the district could replace the 4 mills lost in state revenue, and the additional 1.9 mills would keep the district solvent for at least five more years.
Passage of the levy would add about $415 per year to the real estate tax bills of residents with property values of $200,000.
According to the district's October 2016 five-year financial forecast, it is projected to spend $520,741 more this school year than it will raise in revenue.
And assuming a spending increase of 3.72 percent annually and no new operating levy approvals, the district is projected to be about $545,264 in the red by the end of the 2019-20 school year.
"The message that is coming from Columbus is that if additional funds are needed to operate our schools, they will have to come from the local community," said Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli.
"Without the passage of this levy, and in view of past and continuing forecasted state revenue cutbacks, the district would be unable to continue to offer our outstanding curriculum and extracurricular offerings," said School Board President Gerald Kohanski.
"It would be unfortunate to have to take such actions when the district is at the pinnacle of its performance."
The last new operating levy -- also 5.9 mills -- was passed by voters in 2012. A renewal levy of 7.33 mills was passed last November. A 5.61-mill, five-year levy will be due for renewal in 2020, according to district officials.
Operating levies help pay for expenses such as staff salaries and benefits, utilities, contracts and other items needed for day-to-day operations.
The district also has a 1.5-mill permanent improvement levy on the books. This year, voters will see a reduction of 1.52 mills as a bond issue for the 1997 high school addition will be paid off.
According to officials, a biennial budget currently being considered by state legislators would provide hardly any additional funding for the Aurora district. Legislators have until June 30 to approve the budget.
"We're hoping to stay constant [in revenue]," said Treasurer Bill Volosin earlier this year. "We don't anticipate the state giving districts such as Aurora any additional dollars."
Volosin also said the phaseout of the tangible personal property tax has hurt the district. In 2010, the district received $2.4 million in revenue from that tax, and this year it is receiving none, he said.
District officials point out that because of House Bill 920, there is no allowed inflationary growth on voted millage in Ohio. Thus, even if Aurora adds dozens of new homes and businesses in the next few years, the millage will generate the same amount of money.
Officials stress that if the levy does not pass, present programming could not be maintained, and some employees and programs would have to be eliminated.
School Board members stress they have instituted many cost-saving measures in recent years, including staff reductions, joining consortiums to save money on utilities and supplies, instituting energy conservation measures and charging fees for students to participate in athletics and certain extra-curricular activities.
Officials say they are proud of the numerous student achievement and financial management awards the district has received, and that the $11,319 per pupil cost is lower than a number of nearby, similar high-achieving districts, including Solon, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Kenston and Beachwood.
"Through cost savings efforts and by being fiscally responsible, the district has worked hard to strategically manage the funds that are available to us," said Ciccantelli.
"But since our last levy in 2012, the reduction in state funding has made that a challenge that requires us to seek additional revenues to continue to maintain the outstanding programs and services we provide our students.
"We are hopeful that our community will continue to support our district and provide the necessary financial funding to maintain the outstanding programs, offerings and services that have allowed us to reach the highest levels of academic achievement in the state and the nation."
"Thirty-one years ago when my family moved to Aurora, our schools were not well-managed and were at best average academically," said Kohanski. "Residents who could afford it would send their kids to private schools.
"Today, thanks to the work of many individuals over the last 30 years, our students receive instructional opportunities and perform at levels that are ranked in the top one to two percent both in Ohio and nationally.
"It is also acknowledged by local realtors that the schools are the main driver behind Aurora's strong real estate values, and the main attraction for families choosing our community over neighboring areas."
Local residents can find more information about the upcoming levy on the district's website at www.aurora-schools.org. Voting precincts will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 2.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189