ST. PARIS – For the fourth time since 2017, Graham Local Schools is asking voters to pass an earned income levy for operating expenses. The May 7 ballot will include an additional one percent, five-year earned income tax expected to generate $2.076 million annually.
Last November, Graham’s levy failed 54 percent to 45 percent.
Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said following the failure of the levy in November, the district collected over 350 survey responses, held eight external focus group meetings and focus group meetings with Graham staff.
As a result of these efforts, Koennecke said, the awareness of the school’s financial need has grown, as has awareness of the work of staff members,, costs of operating the district, and the school board’s determination to secure the district’s financial health.
Koennecke said, “I think that this is a different time and place for this district financially in that we’re operating in a very lean manner and will continue to and we have these conservative values that we appreciate in our community. However, we’re running out of avenues to affect any change in our budget overall without some help.”
If the levy fails next month, Koennecke said, the district’s need will not go away and the board will return to voters again seeking their help.
The earned income tax is a tax on earned income only. This is income people receive from wages, salary, self-employment income, tips and other compensation. It is not funds people receive from property, social security, retirement, pensions, interest, dividends, disability, workers’ compensation, welfare or child support.
Following the levy’s failure in May 2018, $1.5 million in cuts were made to the district’s operating budget. Koennecke said the levy passing can reverse these cuts, which included 15 classified staff members who lost jobs, staff positions being suspended, transportation routes being eliminated and increased fees for pay-to-participate activities and preschool.
“When people ask ‘where’s the money going to go’ it’s going to go reverse what happened after last May and help us continue to operate at the level we were,” Koennecke said. “Whereas two-and-a-half years ago maybe we would’ve had some other ideas, now we really want to be able to maintain the quality of what we have.”
If the levy fails next month, Koennecke said, an additional $600,000 would be cut from the district’s operating budget, including more cuts across the board in all buildings for supplies, equipment and materials.
Koennecke said the school’s transportation model would be reduced to a state minimum busing model and the school would look at further staff cuts.
“As far as I’m concerned at this point, we’re already worse than lean when it comes to staffing,” Koennecke said. “To have to lose more people would be devastating.”
Despite the levy’s previous failure, Koennecke said he is optimistic about the district’s parents and level of understanding of the school’s financial need.
“I think when our parents, our grandparents, our guardians when they engage with us and they see what’s going on here I think that they support us,” Koennecke said. “Over the last two and a half years I have watched that support grow with every election and what that really means is that people are engaging and learning about what we’re doing and what we’re about.
“I’m very optimistic that we are headed in the right direction, I’m very optimistic that our teaching staff is one of the hardest working staffs around and when our parents get to engage with our children in the schools and see how their children are impacted positively that is influencing people,” he said. “I’m optimistic because I see our support growing and I see that awareness and engagement growing.”
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777.