COSHOCTON, Ohio (WCMH) — If it can happen to them, can it happen to you?
Voters in the River View School District will decide on March 17 if they will accept a 0.75 percent income tax levy to help pay for their schools. The tax would not apply to Social Security, but it would apply to pensions.
A major industrial employer in the area – the Conesville Power Plant — is closing its doors in May, causing the district to lose a total of $2.2 million in revenue as a result.
The State of Ohio is currently funding the school district as if it is a wealthy district because of the value of the land surrounding the district.
While that land, which is mostly agricultural in nature, may be valuable, it’s not being sold and the financial yield the crops grown on it is hit or miss, depending on the growing season.
When you look at the student body of the district, more than half of them are economically disadvantaged.
Levy supporters, some of whom graduated from the district, said not much has changed for River View.
They were being literal.
The chairs in the cafeteria are the original chairs purchased back when the building opened in 1966. The same can be said with the tables, although half of them have been resurfaced since then.
When it comes to education at River View School District, they recently received an overall grade of “C” from the statewide school report card that many in state government have called highly flawed and broken.
They missed out on a B by less than 1 percent, according to a principal in the district.
Apparently, some of their kids are being taught their government class by teachers in a different district out of logistical convenience.
Those kids test scores count toward River Views, however, not the neighboring districts.
According to the staff member, River View students who are taught government by River View teachers tested better than those that didn’t receive the same lessons.
In order to maintain the level of education being taught to students in the district, the loss of funding needs to made up.
The state isn’t going to be able to fill that hole. Even if it did provide a bonus amount in funding due to the closure (it is unclear if they qualify), it wouldn’t be enough because of how little they receive from the State to begin with.
If the legislature passes a new funding model, it wouldn’t go into effect until the 2021-22 school year. On top of that, if it does what some lawmakers are proposing, which is to actually fund the school properly, it wouldn’t happen overnight; instead, it would take 6-8 years to fully transition to the new funding model.
That’s nearly a decade without enough money to educate children at the level they are currently learning.
Less funding means less teachers, as employees are the largest cost for most school districts due to benefits and salaries.
Less teachers means higher class sizes. Higher class sizes mean less time for students to get needed attention from teachers to make sure they understand the concepts being taught.
That can turn into poor achievement, and the boulder keeps rolling down the hill. Poor achievement can turn into fewer post-graduate opportunities due to a lack of education.
Opponents of the levy say the district just needs to make hard choices and cut programs.
Cutting programs isn’t going to be enough. The district has put forward a list of cuts it is planning in both cases, if the levy passes or if it fails.
Even if the levy passes, cuts will still need to be made. Those cuts are worse for students if the levy fails.
And if parents think they are going to save money by not passing the levy, they’d be wrong.
That is unless their child doesn’t participate in any extra-curricular activities.
Right now, parents pay for their kids to play a sport at the district because no new levy has been passed in 25 years and funds are tight.
That pay-to-play would be extended to anything that has a coach, advisor, or director attached to it receiving a stipend, programs like choir.
The price of the pay-to-play would also go up to $150 per student per activity per year.
So, if you have two kids in high school, one plays volleyball, the other football, one is also in band and the other is in choir, you may be facing a $600 bill to have your kids participate if the levy fails.
You would have to make $80,000 annually to pay the same cost if the levy passes.
The average income in the district is around $50,000, according to state documents. Someone making that much money would have a tax bill of $375 per year.
Conversely, someone making around $30,000 annually would only be paying around $225 per year.
Jodi Wilson, a vocal opponent of the levy, says that is too much for residents to handle.
“People really just do not have the funds to support this,” said Wilson. “They want to be like an inner city school and we don’t have the means for that here.”
Wilson is familiar with school levies and said her parents were instrumental in overturning a levy in Licking County once.
Her ire with this one stems in part from her opinion that kids in the district are not being educated well enough, citing that state report card score. She also doesn’t trust that the school won’t try to keep the levy in place.
“It’s never going to be enough, they’re always going to want more,” said Wilson.
The levy itself does automatically come to an end. If the district did want to keep the levy, it would have to convince voters to approve it again after it expires in five years.
“If they have to cut some of these programs and everything, then that’s a tough call, but that’s what has to be done,” said Wilson. “Just like you or I, if one of us loses a job, has our hours cut, what do we do?”
Walter Mowery has lived his whole life in Coshocton. His dad helped build River View and was a board member. He graduated from the district and raised his son, who also graduated from it.
Mowery’s a school bus driver now, and by no means raking in the dough. His answer to Wilson’s question is not necessarily easy for him, but he’s willing to sacrifice.
“I could make it work. I know where I can take money from and put it there,” said Mowery.
He paused for a moment and continued, “Money is important, but other children’s lives are more important than what my comfort zone, I guess you could say, would be.”
Mowery’s job is likely safe — no cuts to transportation are being discussed at this time — but he said that may not always be the case and yet it doesn’t change his position.
“There’s no money wasted and the kids are worth it,” said Mowery. “If I didn’t think the kids was worth it, yeah, I’d probably be in the same boat [as opponents], but the kids are worth every penny.”
Mowery understands the difficulty he is placing on himself and others by voting for the levy because, as a school bus driver, he sees the district first hand.
“There’s no extra income, they pretty much use it as needed,” he said. “They save and they’re thrifty. There’s some rough places, you can tell where they are.”
There is no easy decision in this situation. Both supporters and opponents of the levy agree on one thing though; the blame rests with the state for most of this.
River View School District is in Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, State Rep. Larry Householder’s district.
Earlier this year, he led the charge to bail out two nuclear power plants and save a couple thousand jobs.
Parents in River View want to know what he is doing to save their children’s education.
When asked, Householder talked about having to fix the EdChoice program and then fix the State Report Card System, and then they could address the School Funding problem.
There was no talk of bailing out the coal-fired power plant, the situation is too far gone for that to be a reality, as it will likely be the case for other coal plants across the state as they approach the need to close due to age.
Householder said his family is being directly impacted by the closure of the power plant that provides funding for a large part of River View Schools budget.
He said his oldest son worked for one of the suppliers of the plant and has been laid off.
As for if he thinks it would be wise for the voters to pass the temporary levy, he had this to say:
“It’s up to the local taxpayers on whether they support levies or not. I’ve always, and this isn’t me passing the buck at all, you know, I don’t live in River View School District. I don’t know what type of relationship that they have with their local superintendent, their teachers, and all that. I know that River View seems to be a great school, a lot of great kids go there. I know several teachers that are very good educators from there. So, they’re just gonna have to make a decision at the local level whether they believe that there needs to be more tax dollars spent to support that school.”
When asked if the levy fails and the district cannot educate its children to the level they have been resulting in poor achievement outcomes, Householder says the blame would be squarely on the school funding formula.
The bi-partisan architects of a new funding formula, State Representatives Patterson and Cupp, tell me the newest version of their plan is still a few weeks away. They say they are close to finishing their proposal and once it is released, it will have to be vetted by their colleagues before it can be passed.
Again, that plan will not go into effect fast enough to help River View out of its current situation.
Voters go to the polls to determine the outcome in one month.