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Ohio School Districts Can Now Seek “Safety Only” Tax Levies
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Since deadly school shootings in Chardon, Ohio and Newtown, Connecticut, Ohio educators and lawmakers looked for more effective ways to prevent violence in schools. Tucked into the new state budget is a measure that allows Ohio school districts to ask voters for tax money specifically earmarked for school safety or security.
Vermilion is a small school district in Northwest Ohio. Like many, it is strapped for funds. Ohio School Boards Association spokesman Michelle Francis says Vermilion has failed more than succeeded in convincing voters to approve new property taxes but it wanted to do more to keep its students safe.
â€œThis particular school district has had some issues in the past with passing operating levies. But, in this situation their local community had actually come to them and said, we would be willing to support a levy if it’s only for school security and safety,” says Francis.
Francis says language in the new state budget allows Vermilion or any other school district in Ohio to seek â€œsafety-onlyâ€ tax money in this November’s election.
â€œIt allows the local school district along with their community to decide what is necessary as far as what they want to do as far as they want to pay for,” Francis says.
A review of local tax issues on Ohio’s November 2010 general election ballot, during the depths of the Great Recesssion, gives some clues as to what voters â€œwant to pay for.â€ Rates of passage for levies for police and fire protection were nearly double the rate of passage for local school operations. Results from elections in 2011 and 2012 also show voters more willing to pass levies linked to police and fire protection than to education.
Cleveland businessman, Kenneth Trump is a consultant who often advises school districts on more effective student safety measures. He says spending on school safety spiked after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado nearly 15 years ago. But, in the last five years, states have cut back on violence prevention.
â€œAfter Columbine, congress, down to state legislatures, and the local school district put the resources into school safety. In the past five or six years, he says those have been cut back or eliminated,” says Trump.
Trump doubts the new levy option in Ohio will do much to boost funds used for student safety.
â€œThis is just creating a whole lot of smoke and making it look like you’re doing something at the state and telling the local people, here, go do it yourself,” Trump adds.
Ohio Education Association president Patricia Frost-Brooks is less critical of lawmakers for allowing school districts to separate levies for school safety from operating levies to pay teachers, administrators, and other personnel.
â€œYou know I’don’t think it’s purposefully been done. So I, you know, I, every community is going to be different, says Frost-Brooks.
Ohio lawmakers did set aside $12,000,000 for school safety grants. The grants could be used to purchase updated communication equipment so school principals or staff can more quickly contact first responders.
Some money could also be used for new security doors for older school buildings.
Consultant Trump says the most effective school safety programs combine human and hardware resources.
â€œThe first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body. It still comes back to the basic fundamentals of training your staff and students, creating a heightened state of awareness,” says Trump.
As Ohio school districts prepare for the start of a new school year next month they will have a couple more ways to fund school safety plans.