Not this levy, not this time

When School Board Chairman Mat Marr cautioned voters that rejection of the upcoming schools levy could result in teacher layoffs, he inadvertently crystallized the reason many voters who supported a similar levy in the past may withdraw support this time around.

Sounds complicated to be sure, but the point is worth teasing out. On Nov. 6, Ashland voters will decide the fate of a schools levy that would raise $3.4 million a year. This levy will replace the Youth Activities Levy, first approved in 1994 and successfully passed three more times. It will also increase the amount of money for the school system by about $1 million, while slightly lowering the amount of tax paid by residents within the city limits.

The new levy expands the geographic boundary of those taxed to include the outlying areas of the city's boundaries. For these people, the tax will be an entirely new fee. Many of these residents benefit from Ashland Public Schools, either directly by having their children attend Ashland schools, or indirectly by increased property values because of the school system's excellent reputation throughout the state. It makes sense to tax them as well.

But that doesn't mean they will like it. We assume many will be downright oppositional. And that's just the start of potential reasons this levy could fail.

The biggest problem can be found tucked away in Marr's comments, namely that the school board is prepared to tap funds previously designated for youth activities to cover a potential shortage in teacher pay.

That sound in the background is the alarm bell going off as the realization sets in that taxpayers lack any assurances regarding how this levy will be used.

It is a fact that a challenge to Eugene's youth activities levy has forced the school board to rewrite this levy. But it is also true the only thing stopping the board from releasing a budget that guarantees the level of youth activities funding is themselves.

Consider the board resolution on the subject:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Ashland School Board supports the Ashland Youth Activities and Academics Levy and commits to continuing to provide as many options and programs as possible to promote both academic and extracurricular success for all students."

That's the promise the board will point to when this topic is raised. If they were determined to assure voters the intent of this levy is to continue activities funding, a resolution like this would clarify the matter:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Ashland School Board supports the Ashland Youth Activities and Academics Levy and commits to continuing to provide funding at or above the existing levels under the previous Youth Activities Levy.

Simply put, "as many options and programs as possible" isn't strong enough to ensure the intent of this levy is honored, despite the legal wrangling.

The school board has sound reasons for wanting flexibility in this levy, particularly in the face of decreasing enrollment. But since this levy is the only thing that provides a protection for specific programs that are historically among the first cut, the need for assurances remains.

If the board can accept the increase of the extra $1.2 million this levy provides, then youth activities funding can be assured. Everyone wins.

Without that assurance, this is a flawed levy. Any related problems, whether cuts in activities or teacher layoffs are the responsibilities of the school board, not the voters.

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