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State funding cuts prompt tax levy proposals in Brooklyn, Strongsville

Posted: 5:48 PM, Nov 05, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-05 18:25:22-05

The Brooklyn and Strongsville school districts are among five school districts in Northeast Ohio that will have tax levy proposals on the ballot this November.

While the district’s profiles are substantially different, school officials said both districts’ levy initiatives were primarily prompted by steep funding cuts from the state level.

After passing a levy renewal in May, voters in Brooklyn will consider Issue 3, a $6.9 million tax increase in order to supplement the school district’s operating fund. The tax levy equates to roughly an additional $20 per month in property taxes for a $100,000 home. If passed, the estimated revenue of $2.1 million a year will go toward day-to-day expenses, classroom technology, and select building repairs.

Voters in Strongsville are considering a $7.9 million tax increase, dubbed Issue 8, which would amount to an additional $23 per month in property taxes for a $100,000 home. The tax hike would generate an additional $11 million per year, which would cover operating expenses, including salaries, technology upgrades, and day-to-day expenses.

Officials from both school districts said the tax levies are needed to offset state funding cuts that were prompted by the elimination of the tangible personal property tax.

“I think the key is, we keep going back to the state cuts. When you lose $14 million from tangible personal property tax, that’s the reality,” said Dr. Mark Gleichauf, the superintendent for Brooklyn city schools.

Similarly, Strongsville is losing an average of $8 million every year as a result of the state funding cuts, school officials said. While the school district has cash reserves exceeding $20 million, school board president Carl Naso, a certified public accountant, said the school district will start deficit spending in 2019 and cash reserves will have been depleted by 2022.

“It dwindles. We’ve worked really hard to build up that savings,” Naso said. “When I first got on the board in 2011, we had $111,000 in the bank. We were borrowing money to make payroll.”

Both Dr. Gleichauf and Naso said their respective school districts have made prudent cuts to the budget. Strongsville saved millions by switching employee healthcare plans to a self-funded model. Brooklyn has also made changes to its healthcare plans. Both districts have also shrunk payroll by letting employees go through attrition.

Strongsville also eliminated six buildings and repurposed one.

“In our conversations with voters, we’ve got ‘live within your means’ kind of talk but we are [living within our means]. [The state] took away a big chunk of our means, you know?” Naso said. “It wasn’t that we overspent. They pulled back revenue. We’re maintaining our spending curve and we work hard every day to do it.”

While the cuts that both districts have made have not impacted the classroom, Dr. Gleichauf said if the levy doesn’t pass, parents and students can expect to see some changes to in-classroom offerings.

“The money will help us continue to provide that high-quality education,” Dr. Gleichauf said. “We’ve tried to make cuts that don’t impact students and instruction. We have done everything that we possibly can to eliminate the impact on students and instruction. That’s why Issue 3 is so important. Certainly, a tax levy is difficult because it becomes personal to them in terms of their situation. We’re being mindful of that. But knowing also that high-quality education does so much for a community. It’s so important for it.”

Both Dr. Gleichauf and Naso said the respective tax levies are needed in order to maintain the programs and services both districts offer students, especially given the need to offset the cuts in state funding.

“It’s about continuation of excellence and preservation of what we offer our students,” Naso said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we are offering some generic, base level education.”