Mantua – At the December Board meeting, the roughly 100 attendees took note of the dire financial situation faced by the district. The district has weathered reductions in State funds, at a rate of over $273,000 per year; as well as reductions in Federal funds, at a rate of $100,000 per year. In addition, Crestwood District Treasurer Jill Rowe noted that 47% of the District’s State aid is ‘guaranteed’ meaning that according to the State’s formula for calculating the district’s funding needs, they are supplying 47% more funding than Crestwood’s enrollment and financial needs should allow. With each new State bi-annual budget, Rowe explained, “the State can reduce that amount, in order to try to whittle away at that number.” She noted that if nothing is done, the Crestwood School District would begin deficit spending in FY2018. Simply put, this means that the district will need to ‘dip into’ its savings in order to cover annual costs.
During December’s meeting, a slide presentation was given which detailed some of the district’s potential options. In it, Ms. Rowe noted that if the district can cut $750,000 beginning in FY2019, they would need a minimum levy of 4 mills in order to avoid deficit spending. If the district cuts $1 million, a minimum of 3 mills would be needed. If $1.25 million could be cut, a minimum of 2 mills would be required, while $1.5 million in cuts would require no new mills. With no reductions, the district would need to place a levy in the amount of 7 mills on the ballot in May of 2018. By comparison, the last proposed Crestwood levy which failed in May, August, and November of 2017, was for 4.45 mills, and was valued at slightly more than $14 per month per $100,000 in home value. The additional millage would need to be placed on the ballot in November of 2019 to begin receiving half of the additional money in the spring of 2020. That slide presentation can be viewed at crestwoodschools.org.
Rowe noted that over the past four years, the district has not spent more than it has taken in, in spite of the fact that the cost of doing business has increased. She noted that inflationary increases, including health insurance, utilities and contractual raises have continued to rise. In order to continue, the district is required to make some difficult decisions. The school board asked Superintendent David Toth, together with Ms. Rowe, to put together several options for consideration. The options include: 1) Building consolidation plus budget cuts in FY2018; 2) non-consolidation plus budget cuts in FY2018, or 3) maintaining the status quo for FY2018, with even larger cuts in FY2019.
In all cases, budget cuts would include the loss of 12 teachers and one administrator and the reduction of classified staff. In the instance of building consolidation, it was recommended that the sclose Crestwood Middle School, moving 6th graders back to the Intermediate School and shuffling grades between the Intermediate and Primary as needed. Grades 7 through 12 would be housed at Crestwood High School. In the event of building consolidation, consolidated staff members would lose their jobs, along with the loss of three custodians, two secretaries and four building aids. The district estimates an additional savings of $40,000 a year in energy costs with the closure of CMS.
If the district chose to keep both the CHS and CMS open (non-consolidation), they would still need to reduce staff by 12 teachers, one administrator, and a minimum of three classified staff members. In both options, class sizes would increase, special programming including electives and Academy classes will be lost, and additional cuts would be made to supplemental programs like athletics and extracurricular activities.
“I don’t want to cut anything,” Superintendent Toth acknowledged. “It’s against everything I stand for as an educator.”
Residents were critical of the most recent levy, which would have consolidated grades 7-12 in a new, smaller, more energy-efficient building. The levy failed three times in 2017, and is no longer a consideration. According to Board President Todd Monroe, whether or not the new school was built, “the deficit would still have existed and the consolidation would have just been part of the process.”
Adding a historical perspective, Ms. Rowe explained that there was six failed emergency levy attempts prior to the last successful emergency levy in the fall of 2012. That represented the first new operating money in the Crestwood District since 1992 — this success came on the heels of six prior failed levy attempts, and was eventually renewed in May of 2015.
While the 2015 renewal represented no increase to taxpayers, this also meant that, according to Ohio House Bill 920, the School District doesn’t receive the current value of property taxes collected. According to Ms. Rowe, in the late 1970’s HB920 was passed, which states that voted millage cannot increase due to inflationary increases.
This means that as property is reevaluated, the school district does not see an increase if those property values are increased. The Ohio Department of Taxation rolls the millage back so the district does not see any increases. “For example,” Ms. Rowe explained, “the Permanent Improvement levy was passed in 1987 at 3.5 mills and the district collected around $420,000 on that levy. Today the district still collects $420,000 annually on that levy. Even though property rates have increased since 1987, the district is still collecting the same amount as when it was passed that year due to the HB920 law.”
According outgoing School Board member Mitch Wilson, a 30-year property tax practitioner for the State of Ohio, the measure was put in place during a recession, when lawmakers were concerned that an increase in levied property taxes would put an undue burden on taxpayers. “Ohio is the only state that does so,” Wilson noted. The district’s levy funds are calculated at the same rate the district received when voters first approved the operating levy in 1986.
Resident Ken Justus asked why the district doesn’t simply opt to replace the current levy with a new, updated tax levy in order to receive the current rate of property tax value, instead of relying on a tax renewal that brings in a substantially lower property tax value. Since the emergency levy from the Fall of 2012 was the first new operating money the district received since 1992, the new School Board must determine if it’s worth the risk to gamble on passage of a new levy and potentially risk another failure to receive any new funding.
And while property values, taxpayer’s income, and cost of living have all increased each year, the community’s financial support of its school district has been stuck in 1986. Resident Janice Simmons, whose two CHS students sat with her during the last School Board meeting, implored the crowd, “Are you still living on your budget from 1986?” Simmons continued, “We sit in our houses saying ’we work too damn hard to raise our taxes.”
“You know what?” she continued, “These teachers work pretty damn hard. And these students work pretty damn hard too,” she acknowledged, motioning to her CHS daughters beside her, “representing our community. I see them up until 10 pm earning those straight As so they can go out and compete for cross-country or swimming or playing with the Cleveland Youth Orchestra.”
“Our kids excel in spite of us, not because of us,” she exclaimed. “Shame on us, community.” Many in attendance met her comments with cheers.
The School Board will meet again on Tuesday, January 9th, beginning at 6:30 pm at the Crestwood Primary School. At that meeting, three board members will be sworn in: Todd Monroe, Kristen Cavanaugh, and Shawn Semety. Monroe was re-elected, while Cavanaugh, and Semety will take the place of outgoing board members Mitch Wilson and David Becker.
In a show of goodwill after what was one of the areas most-contentious elections, both newly elected Board members were offered a seat at the table for the discussions. Both declined. And while no decisions were made at December’s meeting, Mrs. Cavanaugh stated that she’d like to investigate other options in addition to those presented in December. She was asked to provide those in order that financial information could be prepared for discussion at January’s Board meeting.

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