Board to finalize local option levy

The school board will determine the details of the local option levy proposal in a work session at 5 p.m. today in the district board room.

Because the levy would tax the entire district instead of just the city of Ashland, all options the board is considering would bring in more funds than the current youth activities levy it is meant to replace.

However, it could threaten the existence of some activities because the money will go into the school district's general fund. In 1994, the board was required to spend the extra funds only on activities outside of the core curriculum required by the state.

In addition to athletics, the youth activities levy supported music programs, middle school foreign language classes, elementary art and physical education and various clubs at all levels.

"We have an amazing array of athletics here," Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said, highlighting traditional OSSA sports, such as football and volleyball. "I don't think we're going to see any impact on those."

But club sports that many districts do not offer, such as alpine skiing, might be re-evaluated, she said.

The new local option levy was touted as a win-win option by the committee that presented to the board last Monday. Taxpayers will pay the same or a lower rate than they did for the youth activities level, but it will bring in more than $1 million more than the old tax.

The district earned $2,224,882 from the activities levy for the 2005-2006 school year, the latest available audited figures. If the board votes to tax a fixed amount, the local option levy would add $3,350,000 per year, to be spent however the district sees fit.

"We will continue to prioritize the things that are currently being funded," board Chairman Mat Marr said. "We know from the research that students who are involved in one or more activities are much more likely to exceed in their core classes."

Renewing the activities levy, which will expire next June, is no longer an option because similar levies been found unconstitutional in other Oregon districts. The youth activities levy might see the same fate if challenged in Ashland.

Some people do not see the local option levy as a better replacement to the youth activities levy.

"If all of it goes to the general fund, and they then can spend it however they choose to, I would be opposed to that absolutely," said Pete Belcastro, longtime radio broadcaster for Ashland High School sports. He said he fully supports the youth activities levy and would prefer a tax that raised the same amount and funded the same activities.

"We don't have a lot of problems with kids in Ashland because they have a lot of things to do," he said.

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