At a meeting on July 16, the Alexander Local School Board voted to place another tax levy before voters in November. The 1 percent traditional income tax levy would be implemented for a five-year period, and is “basically the same levy” that failed to pass in the May election, according to Fred Davis, School Board president.
The levy attempt this fall will be the district’s fifth consecutive effort to pass a tax levy since 2016, in an effort to make up for a stagnating state revenue stream. In the last three years, the district has proposed several levy options: a 1.5 percent earned-income tax levy, rejected by voters in November 2016 and again in May 2017; a 1.25 percent earned-income tax levy proposed over a five-year period, also rejected in November 2017; and the 1 percent traditional income tax levy proposed in May of this year, which was also rejected by voters, losing by just 42 votes in Athens County (the district extends to small parts of Meigs and Vinton counties, as well, and the levy failed in each).
That most recent 1 percent traditional income tax levy was a response to community input, according to school officials.
District Supt. Lindy Douglas said previously that a 1 percent traditional income tax increase would generate as much money as the 1.5 percent and 1.25 percent increases would have, if passed.
The School Board did not make any changes to the levy amount, this time around. “We’ve changed it from 1 1/2 down to 1 1/4 down to 1 (percent),” Davis said. “We can’t go any lower.”
He said voters in the district will have to decide once again whether to fund the district or leave it to its current levels of funding, which district representatives have said are inadequate to address the district’s ever-increasing financial needs.
“It’s up to the voters,” Davis said. “They decide the level of education they want for their students.”
For nearly 10 years, the school district has been operating with virtually no additional state funding, according to Missy Baker, a teacher of 26 years who graduated from Alexander High School and has taught in the district for the last 20 years. Baker previously served on the Say YES to Alexander Levy Committee, one of many teachers and parents who committed to raising support for the levy this past spring.
“It’s not the voters’ fault; it’s not the school’s fault: it’s the state’s fault,” Baker said in March.
“Our funding continues to dry up even more each year,” Davis said, adding that the state doesn’t seem to have any intentions of increasing funds for the local school districts. “It’s not going to get any better without new funding,” he predicted.
The School Board plans to discuss potential cuts for the future over the next two or three months, Davis said.
Supt. Douglas said in an email in January that levy funds would go toward “yearly operating expenses, fuel, foods, busing, staff, maintenance, repairs, books and equipment.”
The School District apparently began cutting personnel costs in 2008 through attrition, Douglas confirmed in March, and has since made even more cuts to account for limited funds.
Some of the cuts approved by the School Board in June included a curriculum freeze on textbooks for the fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022, valued at $27,000 in savings; a classroom supplies fee that will be charged to students (excluding those in the Free Lunch program) valued at $43,360; athletic cuts (including supplies and transportation, among other things) valued at $13,520; and the elimination of several positions, including (but not limited to) the junior varsity cheerleading coach, junior high football coach, assistant band director, sophomore class adviser, Industrial Arts Club adviser, elementary and junior high yearbook advisers, junior high Science Olympiad adviser, play set director, show choir director and several other positions.
The recent cuts should amount to $28,956 in savings for the district, according to a list obtained by The NEWS in June.
Feedback from surveys conducted in November 2017 and February 2018 by The Middle Ground For Alexander (a Facebook group run by parents in the district that has published public records regarding the district) and gathered by the Say YES to Alexander Committee following the levy’s failure in May suggested that a lack of transparency, poor communication from district leaders to community members, and a general distrust of ALSD administrators were some of the primary reasons people shared for voting against the levy.
Asked about some residents’ claims that the district administration has not been transparent with community members, Davis said it’s difficult to meet everyone’s expectations. “I think transparency is something that is in the eyes of the beholder,” he said. “… We have monthly meetings; we’ve held numerous levy meetings out in the community. Our checkbook, our spending policies are online so you can see every dollar that’s being spent.”
In the meantime, Davis said the School District has “no choice” but to keep trying to pass a tax levy to bring in more revenue. “That’s what the state is telling us: that we do not provide enough local support, in their eyes, for the district,” Davis said. “...Unless the (state’s) formula changes, we continue to sink lower and lower.”
Even with new state legislators potentially on the horizon following the November election, Davis said it’s “highly unlikely” the state biennial budget will change to allow more funding to Alexander. Regardless, if the state budget did change, Davis said, not a “a great deal of change” would happen on the local level.
The longtime Alexander School Board member said he encourages people to “attend meetings and get informed” about the levy. “That’s part of their duty as being residents of the school district,” Davis said.