COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The state’s largest school district is asking voters to support a levy that would generate nearly $100 million in annual revenue.
Like other levies, the Columbus City Schools levy is measured in “mills,” or one-tenth of one cent. The district seeks a 3-mill levy for current operating expenses and a 4.7-mill permanent improvement levy for general improvements. For each $100,000 of market value, the combined 7.7-mill levy would increase property owners’ taxes by $269.50.
The actual millage rate paid by individual taxpayers will vary under the 2023 Franklin County auditor reappraisal.
As the district’s funds from pandemic relief programs are coming to an end in September 2024, Superintendent Dr. Angela Chapman said students’ needs for the services that were provided with that money continue to grow, specifically mental health services.
“The federal funding is coming to an end, the needs of our students are still ongoing and as a district, we need to have the mental health support and programming in place to support the health of our students,” Chapman said.
Board of Education President Jennifer Adair also noted the district is overdue for a levy, as they typically ask for operating funds in a four-year cycle, but have been off the ballot for seven years.
How the levy money would be used
Of the 7.7-mill levy, 3 mills, or $38,612,000 per year, would go toward operating expenses. The other 4.7 mills, or $60,492,000 per year, would go toward the permanent improvement fund.
With the operating expenses funds, the district plans to maintain a variety of positions that were funded through emergency relief, including interpreters for those speaking English as a second language, school counselors, social workers, safety and security specialists, and custodians.
“That would provide us with the capacity to make sure every school, 113 sites across our district, have a school counselor and social worker every day,” Chapman said. “We certainly don’t want to reduce or diminish the amount of mental health support that our students need, because we know that they need them more now than ever before.”
The funds would also allow the district to maintain its “1:1 Device Program,” ensuring students have access to technology.
The district plans to use the permanent improvement funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the district’s buildings, including HVAC, electrical and plumbing uses, security, classroom renovations, and athletic renovations.
The district said if the levy passes, it would spend:
- $27.5 million to preserve jobs currently funded through emergency relief;
- $1.2 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs;
- $19 million to preserve existing family and student support services;
- $2.5 million to add student and family support services;
- $26.8 million for infrastructure improvements like roofing, HVAC, plumbing and electrical work;
- $6.75 million for athletic site improvements;
- $23.4 million for renovating learning spaces like classrooms, auditoriums and cafeterias.
What if the levy fails?
If the levy doesn’t pass, the district says more than 600 positions are at risk of being cut. A number of programs, including elementary school summer programs and career advising expansion, could also be reduced.
“This isn’t about a ton of extras,” Adair said. “This is about really trying to maintain what we have.”
Additionally, the district would return to a “run-to-fail” model regarding its facilities.
“[Run-to-fail] basically means we don’t really fix it all the way until it’s completely broken,” Adair said.
The implementation of this model results in deferred maintenance and deterioration of buildings, according to the district’s website.
Adair stated the district’s buildings are another issue the board will need to address with the community in the future.
“Our buildings, every single building, is too small,” Adair said. “We will have to come back and talk to the community at some point in the future about buildings. So that will be a bond, it won’t be a levy … so that will probably be the next thing to come up to the voters.”
What proponents, opponents say
Proponents of the levy largely cite the negative impacts the reduction of programs and positions, such as school nurses and counselors, could have on students.
“Those are the kind of things that usually get cut first and that’s going to hurt our kids,” spokesperson for the Columbus Education Association Regina Fuentes said. “We cannot afford to lose any of the staffing we currently have.”
But opponents of the levy, including Columbus mayoral candidate Joe Motil, cite concerns over how much the levy will cost property owners.
“More and more residents are unhoused. The Auditor’s property reappraisals and property taxes are coming due and their numbers are soaring,” Motil said in a statement. “I will not support a levy that costs homeowners $269.50 per $100,000 of appraised value.”
Fuentes said pushing off the levy will only make things worse for taxpayers.
“It might be expensive now, but if we keep pushing it off and prolonging it, it’s going to be more expensive in the future,” Fuentes said.
The Equity Now Coalition also voiced its concerns about the levy when it penned a letter to the Columbus Board of Education that said the board needs to build back trust with the community. The coalition wanted the current levy pulled from the ballot, citing a lack of transparency as a big reason.
Adair said the board is interested in “trying to develop alternative ways and methods” to fund the district, outside of taxpayer dollars.
Voting by mail
Absentee ballot request forms must be delivered, either by mail or in person, to county boards of elections by 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. Print out an absentee ballot request form here.
Mailed absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 6 and have until Nov. 13 to arrive at boards of election. If dropping your ballot off in person, you have until 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7.
You do not need a photo ID to vote absentee.
Voting in person
Early in-person voting continues through Nov. 5 at county boards of elections:
- Oct. 24-27: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Oct. 30: 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 31: 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
- Nov. 1-3: 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Nov. 4: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Nov. 5: 1 to 5 p.m.
Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Anyone in line by 7:30 p.m. will be able to cast their ballots. The Franklin County Board of Elections recommends confirming your polling location by checking your voter record here or by calling 614-525-3100.
Ohio requires a form of photo identification to vote in person. Valid forms of photo ID include:
- Ohio driver’s license
- State of Ohio ID card
- Interim ID form issued by the Ohio BMV
- U.S. passport
- U.S. passport card
- U.S. military ID card
- Ohio National Guard ID card
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ID card