Walnut Township Schools asking for 6.9 more mills
MILLERSPORT - This time the vote was unanimous. Monday night Walnut Township School Board members agreed to put a 6.9 mill emergency levy on the May 6.
Superintendent Randy Cotner told board members the district is getting $160,000 less in state aide than it did five years ago. He also presented the most recent ranking of the state’s 612 school districts by the state’s share of the district’s expenses. The so-called “wealth index” is based on the state’s very complex funding formula.
By this measure, Walnut Township Local School District is the 42nd wealthiest district in the state. The state provides 20.7 percent of its budget. Walnut Township is right behind Dublin City on the wealthiest list. Cotner compared Walnut Township’s ranking and amount of state aid with other area districts:
• Bloom Carroll (Fairfield County) - 97th at 32.7 percent;
• Granville (Licking County) - 102nd at 33.6 percent;
• Lakewood (Licking County) - 113th at 34.7 percent;
• Northern Local (Perry County) - 172nd at 41.5 percent;
• Southwest Licking (Licking County) - 190th at 43.2 percent;
• Heath City (Licking County) - 214th at 44.8 percent;
• Berne Union (Fairfield County) - 240th at 46.2 percent;
• Licking Heights (Licking County) - 244th at 46.5 percent;
• Lancaster City (Fairfield County) - 249th at 46.8 percent;
• Liberty Union-Thurston (Fairfield County) - 376th at 55.6 percent;
• Fairfield Union (Fairfield County) - 381st at 56.0 percent;
• Newark City (Licking County) - 393rd at 56.7 percent;
• Pickerington Local (Fairfield County) - 413th at 58.4 percent;
• Licking Valley (Licking County) - 425th at 59.1 percent;
• Amanda-Clearcreek (Fairfield County) - 512th at 67.6 percent;
• New Lexington City (Perry County) - 564th at 77.2 percent;
• Crooksville (Perry County) - 574th at 78.3 percent; and
• Southern Local (Perry County) - 81.8 percent.
Cotner also said the district is losing $177,000 a year due to online and home-schooled students. “Our biggest expense is personnel,” he explained. The district has 46 teachers. “I don’t know if we can cut one teacher,” Treasurer Kirk Grandy added. “We are barebones now,” Cotner said. “We don’t have a lot of electives for our students now.”
Grandy said the district is owed about $500,000 in unpaid taxes. Walnut Township has two current emergency levies - one brings in $250,000 a year and the other $258,000 a year. “Emergency levies don’t grow,” Grandy explained.
He said the emergency levies could be combined into a substitute levy that would grow with property values but “you can’t combine and add,” meaning a substitute levy would only be considered if voters approve another emergency levy.
Township resident Larry Hoover, who farms and has an agricultural business, told board members that three years his property taxes went from about $17,000 a year to more than $27,000. He said the county auditor’s office has told farmers to expect a 30-50 percent increase this year. “It gets to the place where we’re breaking the bank,” he said.
Parent and school volunteer Dina Reasoner said she is confident that the district is handling finances properly. “Our kids get a good education,” she added. “It’s worth fighting for.” She pointed out that, “Our kids don’t have to pay to play.” Doing so would mean some families couldn’t afford to have their children participate in extra-curricular activities.
Board member Vince Popo, who was the only negative vote last month on the first step to put the levy on the ballot, wanted to comment before he voted. “We (the school district) is the largest employer in Walnut Township. We have a $3.5 million payroll and a lot of that is spent in Walnut Township... If you lose your district you lose your history and identity.” Popo then voted “yes.”
Reasoner asked if the issue brought up at the November board meeting about a middle-school student losing grade points for failing to have a book cover by the deadline had been resolved. When her question was met with silence, she said it could hurt the new levy’s chances and she would be reluctant to continue to volunteer on levy campaigns. Cotner then said, “We will not take points away for not having a book cover.” Reasoner thanked him for resolving the issue. “Issues need to get dealt with,” she said.
In other business Monday night, Faye Whitaker was reelected board president. Popo was reelected vice president. Board meetings will continue to be held at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the elementary school library. The September meeting will be held in Fairfield Beach. The June and July meetings will be held June 2 and July 28. The November meeting will be held Nov. 3.
High school principal Jeff Stought said the school’s White Christmas project delivered 170 fruit baskets to senior citizens and made Christmas brighter for 36 needy families. The families received food and at least one $50 gift card to buy gifts for their children. Donations totaled $5,200 including $3,000 from Toys for Tots.
He announced that senior Kolton Halla scored the highest on the American Legion Americanism test in the multi-county 8th District. His finish puts him in the statewide contest.
Elementary principal Angie Harrison said Grandparents’ Day will be celebrated jointly with Valentine’s Day this year on Feb. 13-14. The third graders’ Martin Luther King Jr. program will be held on January 31. The school’s spelling bee is set for Feb. 10.
In his report, Cotner thanked school board members for their service. January is School Board Recognition Month. He also reported that water has been ponding on the rubber roof over the elementary cafeteria.
The boards’ next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 10, in the elementary library.