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First step taken to replace district income tax

MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Board of Education members took the first step Monday night toward replacing the school district’s income tax levy.

Voters, on May 6, 2003, approved a 10-year 1.25 percent income tax that will be collected through Dec. 31, 2013. Only school district residents are liable for the tax. Until recently, Ohio law based a school district’s income tax on the income and deductions reported on a district resident’s state income tax return. The only income excluded from taxable income in Ohio was Social Security and railroad retirement benefits and railroad disability. All other income from pensions, investments, and employment is subject to the school district tax.

The 1.25 percent rate was set to generate $1 million per year for the district’s operating expenses. It raised $1,148,416 for the fiscal year ending June 30. The district wants the replacement tax to raise $1.2 million per year.

Board members unanimously approved a resolution Monday night declaring the necessity to replace the existing income tax and directing the state tax commissioner to determine the rate necessary to raise $1.2 million annually. Ohio law now permits school districts to approve a district income tax that only applies to earned income. Monday night’s resolution was based on an ‘earned income’ district income tax. ‘Earned income’ is defined as “wages, salaries, tips, other employee compensation and selfemployment income from sole proprietorships and partnerships.’’ That means non-Social Security and railroad retirement income, unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, lottery winnings, interest, dividends, capital gains, profit from rental activities, distributive shares of profit from S corporations, alimony received and distributions from trusts and estates would NO longer be subject to the school district income tax.

By excluding all income except ‘earned income,’ the district’s rate will have to increase. Income tax rates must be in increments of .25 percent. District officials are anticipating the new rate will be 1.75 percent.

Once the Tax Commissioner sets the rate, it’s decision time for the board at its 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, July 30. Board members will have to decide whether to accept the rate necessary to generate $1.2 million per year or to adjust income expectations, whether to seek a 10-year or a continuing (permanent levy) and whether it should appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Since the current tax will be collected through next year, board members could decide to wait until next year to go to voters.

Board members briefly discussed the 10-year versus permanent tax. “I think it is something we need to think about it,” President Faye Whitaker said.

In other business Monday night, board members, Superintendent Dale Dickson and high school principal Jeff Stought spent about an hour to come to an agreement on the 2012-13 junior/senior high school student handbook. Board members first rejected the proposed revision by a 3-2 vote with members Karen Keller, Carol King and Vince Popo voting “no.” Whitaker and Tom Cumbow supported it.

The disputed issue is the physical education requirement. Ohio law requires a 1/2 credit in phys ed to graduate. Each semester represents a 1/4 credit, but students can only earn 1/4 credit a school year due to local scheduling limitations. Four years ago, state regulations allowed flex credits and extracurricular activity (athletics, marching band and cheerleading) waivers for the phys ed requirement. Retroactive waivers were expressly prohibited.

Though district officials discussed the issue three to four years ago, the board did not approve a waiver policy until last month. It takes two of the permitted extracurricular activities – for example football and band – to earn a 1/4 credit. Once the board approved the waiver policy, Stought and Dickson drafted what Dickson termed the “nuts and bolts” which were outlined for the first time in the handbook. The ‘nuts and bolts’ said students could only waive 1/4 credit per year. “It should not be all four (for the full 1/2 credit) in one year,” Stought said. “Students can be procrastinators.” He and Dickson raised the possibility that a senior planning to participate in four approved activities could be injured in the first activity and unable to participate the rest of the year, meaning they would not be able to graduate.

Popo said he could accept the two-year requirement except for the incoming senior class. A couple of students, including one expected to receive 12 letters in four years of athletics and band, would be affected. Dickson said a flex credit or a summer session would allow an affected senior to meet the requirement.

Dickson pushed board members to resolve the issue. “We need to resolve this tonight so we have a handbook,” he said. Treasurer Kirk Grandy reminded everyone that another vote on the handbook would have to wait until the next meeting. Members decided that they could reach an agreement in principle now and formally approve it at the next meeting.

Keller said she would support the handbook if the phys ed waiver was revised to require that athletics retain their academic eligibility to earn the waiver. No one objected to that requirement. King said she would also support it now since her objective of having a clear and open discussion of the issue had been met. Popo said while he would make his decision in July, it no longer mattered since there would be at least four votes supporting the handbook.

Board members also discussed the district’s athletic eligibility policy. A couple of years ago, board members increased the minimum grade point average to participate from 1.50 to 1.75. The district also moved from checking GPA’s weekly to basing eligibility entirely on the previous nineweek grading period.

“I thought our weekly eligibility process was fantastic,” Stought said. “Then out of the blue it was deemed that it wasn’t working.”

Keller said the new policy doesn’t provide incentives for students to improve their grades, particularly for fall activities since eligibility is based on last school year’s final nine-week grading period. Stought said the previous weekly GPA checks took a lot of time but is willing to resume them. The district’s Athletic Council made the recommendation to the board to change the eligibility standards. Dickson recommended that the Council review the policy and board members’ concerns and come back to the board so a decision can be made before the start of the fourth and final nine-week grading period.

In other business Monday night, board members unanimously approveda2percentincreasein base pay for teachers and all other employees except the superintendent and treasurer. Two years ago, the district’s three-year contract with teachers was extended from 6/30/13 to 6/30/16. That extension included a provision for an annual salary opener but allowed no other changes. Last year, teachers agreed to a one-year freeze in base pay. For years, the district has given its other non-unionized employees, except the superintendent and treasurer, the same percentage increase given to teachers. All employees received step increases if applicable last year and will do so again this year.

Dickson said staff deserved a raise this year. “They are a great group to work with.” He added that thanks to hard work, the district is ahead of most districts in the implementing the new state standards.

In his report, Grandy said the food program continued to do better than the expected “breakeven.” “It’s got to be one of the best financially in the State of Ohio,” he added.

Dickson said 39 students graduated, with 37 walking for last Sunday’s graduation ceremony. Graduates were offered just over $1 million in scholarships.

He also expressed concerned with the state-required obesity checks for students in kindergarten, third and fifth grades. For kindergarteners, 22 percent were considered overweight/obese with 6 percent actually obese. The results for third graders were 31 percent and 13 percent respectively. Fifth graders did a little bit better at 22 percent and 11 percent.

“What can we do to address this?” he asked. Elementary school principal Angie Harrison said the district needs to decide whether to strictly enforce its wellness policy or modify it. It currently bans cupcakes, cookies and other sweets from classroom birthday celebrations, but it is routinely ignored.

Dickson reviewed several summer projects with board members. He is currently seeking bids for two new servers for the computer system and to provide wi-fi service in both schools.

Maintenance and transportation supervisor Mike Washburn told board members to expect to see some big bills from work done this summer. The elementary school parking is in very poor condition. Adding another layer of asphalt would cost about $38,000, he said. “We’ll try to buy some time.”

Washburn is also getting quotes on buying one or two new buses for the board’s consideration next month.

Ammon Keller, son of Glen and Karen Keller, described his Eagle Scout project for the board. He is proposing to create a grass soccer field for elementary students. He expects the cost, including a six foot high fence, to be $1,800 to $1,900. Ammon will seek labor and monetary donations to pay for the project.

In personnel actions, board members accepted the resignation of high school Spanish teacher Ann Bowen. Jason Minosky was hired for one year as an elementary intervention specialist. Harrison said he comes from an alternative school with considerable experience with the target students.

The board’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, July 30, in the elementary school library.

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