ST. PARIS – The Graham Local school board approved putting a levy on the ballot this spring.
On Wednesday, the board unanimously approved placing a one percent earned income tax on the May 7 ballot. Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke told the Daily Citizen the levy will be the same type and ask for the same amount of funding as the previous levy.
The upcoming levy will be the fourth time the district has attempted to pass a levy since 2017. Most recently, voters rejected Graham’s levy last November 54 percent to 45 percent.
“We appreciated the turnout and support from many of our community members last November,” Graham Board President Ryan Pine says in a press release. “Since that time, the board has been actively collecting input and feedback through surveys, focus groups, as well as individual and group meetings. We listened to concerns about the perception of fairness associated with the type of levy, the amount we should ask for, and how we can continue to communicate our needs and expenses.
“Based on our research and the feedback we received, the board has decided that it is best to continue building upon our support for an earned income tax,” the release continues. “We will also continue to find creative ways in which we can save taxpayers’ money while improving the educational opportunities for our students.”
“While we are grateful for the growth of our supporters, we know that there are still a large number of parents and graduates that did not participate in the last election,” Graham Board Vice President Steve Setty said. “We intend to continue to reach out to share our need so voters can make an informed decision in May. A one percent earned income tax would generate $2.076 million annually for a five-year term.”
Following the levy’s failure in May 2018, $1.5 million in cuts were made to the district’s operating budget.
The school stated transportation services and staff were cut 33 percent as drivers and routes were eliminated, 15 staff members lost jobs and other staff positions were suspended and fees were increased by 40 percent for pay-to-participate activities and 40 percent for preschool, which has affected the majority of Graham’s 1,300 families.
“We have cut and stretched this budget with no additional operating funds during the past 26 years,” Graham Treasurer Judy Geers stated. “This is unique and a significant factor in how we arrived at this point in our school history. We must fix our financial situation.”
Graham contends residents currently pay the lowest operating tax rate of any other school system in the seven-county area and even with the passage of a levy, members of the Graham community would still pay among the lowest tax rates.
“Continuing to cut and manage finances without new operating funds in this way and expecting high-quality education doesn’t add up,” Koennecke stated. “We need to recoup our losses and plan ahead for the future our students face. These funds would allow us to reduce fees raised during this school year for both preschool and activities, reinstate key transportation staff and routes cut, reinstate key aides in buildings, and sustain the hard work of our staff to improve Graham’s achievement over time.”
“If we fail again in May 2019, our need deepens,” Pine stated. “The board would have to return to voters again to seek assistance. This board is determined to seek new funding now to better Graham’s future. We will continue to share transparently as we move forward with our school community to examine this crucial need for Graham.”
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777.