School levy campaign begins

Supporters of the Youth Activities and Academics Levy were out in full force this weekend to explain the changes in the levy and encourage people to vote. Some residents say they have never heard of the levy, despite paying property taxes in the city limits, which include the current local option levy. Others remain divided on the new levy.

"I probably don't know enough about it to comment," said Teresa Francois, whose two children attend Bellview Elementary. "I think the community in general is really supportive of public schools and the dollars that we need to meet the needs of our students. I think the community will support it."

The Ashland School District will ask voters to approve the Youth Activities and Academics Levy in the November election. If passed, the district can levy up to $1.29 per thousand in assessed property value for three years. It will replace the Youth Activities Levy, which expires in June 2008.

The current levy is set at $1.38 per thousand for city residents. Because of a change in state law, the entire school district, including residents outside city limits, can be taxed under the new levy, meaning a lower tax rate will net a greater total overall.

Changes in state law also require that the money collected under the new levy go into the district's general fund rather than a special fund reserved for extra-curricular activities.

"That part concerns me," Francois said. "I'd like to know where my dollars are going specifically."

The district expects to finish a clarifying statement by Monday afternoon about where the money will go. The funding will reflect the name of the levy, with all current programs retaining funding, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

"If any reductions need to happen in the future due to declining enrollment or anything else, they would be applied across the entire budget, and not any one project would be cut over any others," Di Chiro said.

The levy is imperative to the continuation of athletics and activities, as well as the support of core academic programming, campaign members said.

"This is 10 percent of the budget, and we must have this to maintain what we have," said Amy Amrhein, former school board member and co-chair of the campaign committee.

Mariana Cooper, also a parent of a Bellview student, said she would like to know more information before election day.

"If I knew what kind of activities it was, I would be supportive," she said.

Cooper, who lives within the city limits, didn't realize she was already paying for the current levy.

That might be because the levy is referred to as the local option on property taxes and not the Youth Activities Levy, Amrhein said. The question on the November ballot will also ask voters to approve the local option levy.

Those that are more versed in the specifics of the levy are also divided on the issue.

"I think it's great," said Linda Gerschler. "I have a kindergartener, and he has music and P.E. thanks to the prior levy, so to have that continue is fantastic."

Carol Adams, whose son is a freshman at Ashland High School, also approves of the levy.

"If it's going to cover more than just athletics, than that's probably really good," she said. "I'm all for the youth and making them better."

Greg Lemhouse, who ran for city council in 2006, questioned the reasoning that taxes are being lowered, because although individuals will pay less, the total amount collected will be higher.

"From what I understand, the overall money per student is higher, so I would wonder why that's gone up," he said. "Historically, school systems have found more reasons to ask for more money rather than find ways to use what they have. I think when you sell it that it's going to be used for a special fund and then you put it in the general fund it's easier to overspend rather than make efficient use of our money."

The campaign committee will continue canvassing next weekend and begin calling registered voters on Oct. 29. The levy requires a double majority to pass, and campaign members will work up until the Nov. 6 election to get people to vote.

"We don't take anything for granted," Amrhein said. "Campaigns are all about communication and conversation ... hopefully we do get a yes vote then we can move forward together."

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