COVENTRY TWP. Voters living within Coventry Local Schools will decide Tuesday whether they believe Issue 16, a 9.91-mill renewal levy, is another key step in getting the district out of fiscal emergency or if the tax is another bad decision made by school leaders.
The issue, which was first passed in 2003 and last renewed in 2012, generates $2.88 million per year and costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $300 annually.
While renewals of levies are typically approved by voters, this levy has divided a fraction of the community.
Coventry Treasurer Matthew Muccio said the renewal is necessary to help keep the district on track to get out of fiscal emergency, adding that the schools have lived on its current operating budget since 2010.
The school district, boosted by high property values along the Portage Lakes, is deemed to be a wealthy district by the Ohio Department of Education. That designation has meant a decrease in the amount of funding the district receives from the state in recent years under Gov. John Kasich's state budget.
With less money coming in from the state, Superintendent Russell Chaboudy also agrees with Muccio that passage of this renewal is a major step to get out fiscal emergency.
"If this renewal does not pass eventually, we will never get out of fiscal emergency," Chaboudy said.
Those on the Homestead Exemption will not be affected if the levy fails, but those with the 2.5 percent owner-occupancy tax reduction would lose that if the issue is defeated, according to Chaboudy.
The levy is not the only route for the district to get out from fiscal emergency, according to members of the Coventry School Taxpayers Accountability Coalition (CSTAC). Group members, who believe the levy is not the only path out of fiscal emergency.
CSTAC members tout a report from the Ohio Auditor Dave Yost's office last summer, which estimated that Coventry's open enrollment policy is costing the district more than $1 million per year. Coventry enrolls more students from outside its boundaries than any other district in Ohio.
The state auditor's report prompted Coventry officials to form an open enrollment committee to examine its policy. The committee approved a recommendation earlier this year not to vastly change its open enrollment policy. That was based largely on an internal report compiled by Muccio and Assistant Supeintendent Lisa Blough, which showed the district does not lose money from open enrollment, but actually gains more than $3 million a year from it.
The 12-member committee voted 10-2 to recommend to the district's Board of Education to keep the district's open enrollment largely unchanged. The two "no" votes on the open enrollment commitee came from CSTAC members.
The group has released the following statement on the levy:
"CSTAC trusts and believes the independent auditor of state's performance audit and as such will not recommend supporting any school levy until the district commits to begin reducing open enrollment to the numbers recommended in the performance audit. Our goal is financial stability for our schools, a quality education for our resident students, and protection of local taxpayers hard earned funds."
The group isn’t against the schools, but wants to see a stop to the bad decisions it feels the district is making.
"The board doesn’t intend to change and we have to stop supporting that," Susan Darby, a CSTAC member said. "This no vote means we are done supporting that."
Chaboudy said the district has made an "amazing turnaround" and much of that is due to sacrifices made by the staff.
When it was placed in fiscal emergency in December 2015, it was given a $4.8 millon loan from the state to cover a budget gap. That loan helped off debt for health insurance and district leaders anticpate they will be able to completely pay off the loan in the next two years and still remain in the black - as long as the renewal passes.
Muccio and Chaboudy both agree there won’t be a need for any new money levies anytime soon as the district’s budget looks to remain stable, though added that some changes could still occur depending on what happens with the district's state funding.
If the renewal doesn’t pass Tuesday, cuts will be occur and the district will try again in November. Chaboudy said all options then would be on the table for the November levy, including adding millage. He said the decision would be made by the board of education.
"If the renewal fails, we will start looking at cuts for the following year," Chaboudy said. "We don’t want to go there as we have already cut to the bare bone."
Cuts would likely take place during 2018 and 2019 if the renewal cannot be passed.
"Everything is in place for a positive future with the passage of this renewal," Chaboudy said, adding that the district may be able to get out of fiscal emergency this calendar year with the levy passage.