BOE President makes case for earned income tax
By Russell Ginise, President of the Board of Education of the Granville Exempted Village School District.
As published in the Newark Advocate April 25, 2018
No one, in their right mind, seeks election or appointment to the Board of the Granville Exempted Village School District because they want to ask voters to raise taxes. Yet, the Board is asking the community to continue to support our schools by approving an earned income tax levy on the May ballot. Please allow me to tell you why we firmly believe that an earned income tax is the best way to put Granville schools on solid financial footing for years to come.
After spending much of the last year discussing and researching options for a new levy, the Board decided upon an earned income tax levy rather than a new property tax levy. Earned income tax levies, meaning a tax on wages but not on Social Security benefits, dividends, pensions, investments or capital gains, now make up about 1/3 of schools levies in Ohio. We have heard from a number of residents that the property tax burden, especially for seniors or those on fixed incomes, was a real challenge. The recent Licking County property tax re-valuation appears to have disproportionately burdened seniors, having the effect of a three-mill property tax increase. (It is important to note that the property tax re-valuation did not materially benefit Granville schools. We will receive about a 1.5% increase in funding over 3 years.) Importantly, an earned income tax will be directly linked to our economy and will grow or shrink in correlation to income. Our schools will benefit as the economy grows and wages rise, but taxpayers won’t experience the same burden if incomes shrink. This is different than the result of the recession of 2008-09 when home values in Granville, and their tax burden, did not decline, unlike most other communities in central Ohio.
There are some things that we can all agree on. There is no doubt that Granville schools are among the very best in Ohio; top two under one metric and top five percent in others. But, you already know that. Our administrators and educators drive a culture of continuous improvement in every building, every classroom, every day. That includes cutting edge educational initiatives and a focus on the whole child where over 90% of our students participate in extracurricular activities including clubs, the performing arts, and 29 sports teams. We’re currently engaging the community, staff and students in our Wellness initiative aimed at addressing the long term physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff. We are preparing learners for life.
The District has been aggressive in managing our budget and containing costs. We’ve implemented energy cost savings initiatives, used hedges over the years to protect against rising fuel costs, been prudent in hiring and managing our growth. Last year, we approved a new 3-year contract with our staff that allows Granville to pay competitive wages while providing significant cost control in our benefits program. In cooperation with our staff, we’ve changed to a private-sector like health care savings plan that will both empower our staff to manage their consumption of health care services and moderate future increases in our health insurance costs. We are one of the first districts to switch to such a model program and we believe that it will save the taxpayers and the District money and provide cost-certainty. Granville schools are achieving phenomenal results, providing a best-in-class education for our children, while doing so at a considerably lower cost per pupil than other high achieving schools.
No citizen wishes to pay taxes and certainly not more than is necessary to fund critical parts of our civic infrastructure, including our public schools. Ohio public schools are funded by a combination of local taxes and contributions from the State. Granville, like other communities, funds its share of school funding through periodic levies which require voter approval every few years. In Granville, local taxpayers contribute approximately 75% of the cost of our schools because the State deems Granville a “wealthy” district and, under the State’s funding formula, wealthy districts are expected to bear a heavier portion of the financing burden. The message from our state government is clear and unequivocal; Granville residents will have to pay a larger share of the cost of education.
It is time that we address the declining physical condition of our buildings and facilities. The average age of our buildings is 35 years and they will require more repairs or replacements of key components such as heating and cooling units, fire detection and suppression systems, roofs and windows as well as the periodic replacement of buses, desks and computers. These expenses are in addition to our periodic investments in equipment, buses, technology and security. The District has a 20-year plan to replace or repair critical components in our facilities and that plan is available for your review on our website. The earned income tax levy will provide much need revenue for those important repairs. You may be assured that we will continue to be fiscally transparent and prudent, making investments where necessary to ensure a safe and comfortable learning environment for our students, staff and visitors.
It is not true that the District will replace the athletic field with artificial turf if this levy is passed. The Board’s intention does not include installing artificial turf in the football stadium. Any decision regarding the eventual replacement of the stadium grass will be made by future Boards of Education as a part of normal modernization efforts. Importantly, the Board has made clear that any eventual replacement should be paid for as part of a public/private fundraising campaign rather than relying exclusively on school district funds. However, you need to know that the Board will consider funding the modernization of the spectator stands in the stadium in order to ensure public safety. When we invite people in to our facilities, whether they be classrooms, buses, theater, cafeteria or athletic facilities, we have an obligation to provide an environment that is safe, accessible and suitable for public use. We will continue to meet our obligation within our budget. But, don’t let anyone confuse the issue; this levy is not a “turf tax”.
Finally, please know that the choice facing Granville voters is not a binary one of a tax or no tax. Ohio’s school funding formula compels us to pass a new levy if we want to have the funding necessary to ensure the quality of Granville schools. The Board believes that the earned income tax provides the best funding mechanism to invest in and maintain excellent schools in the manner that our community expects and our children deserve. The levy will grow in good economic times but if the economy struggles and wages decline, so will the amount collected by the levy. Granville schools have been and will remain open and transparent with our financing plans and we will continue to seek the support, approval and involvement of our community. This is your opportunity to affirm your support for Granville schools. We need your “Yes” vote for Granville schools on May 8th.
CORRECTION: the above article states that one-third of Ohio school districts use an earned income tax, which is incorrect. One-third of Ohio districts do use some form of income tax for school funding, but that figure includes both traditional and earned income taxes.