School board looks to new levy

Voters will likely be asked to approve a local option levy to support the Ashland School District this November.

School board members agreed Monday night that the levy would be an appropriate replacement for the Youth Activities Levy, which expires in June 2008. They will work out the details of the proposal later this month.

A local option levy would tax the entire school district, rather than just the City of Ashland like the current activities levy. School board members said the new levy would raise more money without increasing the amount individuals must pay.

"These are a range of good options," school board member Mat Marr said. "They all bring in more money and more options."

Recent state law changes increased the amount a local option can raise, making a local option more profitable than an activities levy for the first time in Ashland. It also allows the district to spend the money on academic programs rather than only extracurricular activities.

School districts can now earn the lower of either 20 percent of district revenue or $1,000 per student, weighted for students in special programs. The previous limit was $750 per student or 15 percent of district revenue.

Board members must still decide if the tax will be a fixed rate or a fixed amount, and whether they will ask voters to approve a three- or a five-year levy. There is no clear consensus on the issues at this point, but members said they faced a good dilemma.

"We are so fortunate to live in a community that values education so much that this is even an option," school board member Ruth Alexander said.

In other business, the school board voted unanimously to support the Ashland Public Library measure that will be placed on the September ballot and heard an interim report on the Continuous Improvement Plan for the district's curriculum.

Juanita Fagan, the interim curriculum director, said the committee's focus has been on specific subgroups, who "are not performing as well as they should be," she said. The groups include special education, English as a second language and economically disadvantaged students.

Fagan's committee determined that all three of those groups showed performance gaps of 30 percent to 50 percent. Their goals are to increase the average student's test scores in the next two years and cut the gaps in disadvantaged students' scores in half. To obtain more accurate measurements, the committee also suggested more frequent but less time-consuming student assessments.

The committee's final proposal will come to the board in September for approval.

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