Of the 22 school districts that are members of the Stark County Educational Service Center, 17 want the Stark County ESC to place a tax on the August ballot to fund additional safety, security and mental health measures.
Most Stark County voters likely will see a school property tax levy on their August election ballot to fund safety and security improvements and additional mental health resources.
Leaders in 14 Stark County school districts and three districts outside of Stark County have asked the Stark County Educational Service Center to place a 1.49-mill continuing tax levy on the Aug. 7 special election ballot.
If approved by a majority of voters in those 17 districts, each participating district would receive $226 per student. The service center would not receive any money from the levy.
The money, which would be distributed to the participating districts based on enrollment, would be restricted to funding safety and security improvements and additional mental health resources. Such measures could include hiring additional school resource officers, installing metal detectors or upgrading other security equipment or contracting with a mental health agency for additional counselors. Each district’s leaders would be responsible for determining how to spend the money their district receives.
The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $52.15 a year, if approved.
The governing board for the Stark County ESC will meet Thursday to accept the districts that have chosen to participate and is expected to take the first step of putting the levy on the ballot. The board then is expected to meet April 25 to approve placing the levy on the Aug. 7 ballot.
Earlier this month, the board approved creating a county school financing district that would allow participating districts to seek a levy for safety, security and mental health measures.
Stark County ESC Superintendent Joe Chaddock told the governing board that he has been working with local superintendents, health and mental health agencies, law enforcement officers and other experts to find ways to help districts address the recent rash of teen suicides and the spike in school threats.
“It's a community problem and we are ill-equipped,” he said.
Opting out of the levy are Canton City, Canton Local, Carrollton, Green and Perry. Those school system voters will not see the levy on the ballot and the districts will not receive any money generated by the joint levy if it passes.
The most dominant concern raised by the districts is that the levy would be a continuous, or permanent, tax.
Canton City Board President John Rinaldi said multiple factors influenced the board’s 4-1 vote to opt out.
“One of the main things is we felt that to join this taxing district would put a burden on our citizens who don’t have any representation on the county board of education,” Rinaldi said.
Voters in city school districts, such as Canton City, Alliance, Massillon, North Canton and Louisville, cannot seek a seat on their affiliated educational service center’s governing board or vote for the governing board members because their districts are not part of the ESC’s territory as outlined in state law. Instead, the city districts contract for the services.
Rinaldi said another concern was that Canton City voters could reject the tax but still be stuck paying for it if the majority of voters in the other school districts supported it.
“That tax would be forced on us even though, as a community, we voted it down,” he said.
He said the levy, which would have generated up to $1.9 million a year for the district, would be more important if the district already hadn’t invested so much into its safety and security measures.
“I could see if we weren’t doing anything as a district right now with safety and security,” he said. “Someone would have to prove to me that another district is as advanced as us.”
Perry Local Superintendent Scott Beatty wrote in a written statement after the school board voted 4-0 to opt out of the levy that the district worried that seeking the continuous levy with the Stark ESC could jeopardize its renewal levy that will appear on the May 8 ballot. The five-year, 11.7-mill renewal levy would allow the district to maintain its current operations, educational programming and safety and mental health resources.
“As the May 8 renewal levy is critical, the district decided that asking voters to also pass a new continual levy in August was not in the best long-term interest of the school district,” Beatty wrote.
He also noted that Perry, which would have received nearly $1.1 million a year from the proposed Stark County ESC levy, already has put in place additional safety, security and mental health resources.
Among the additions: An increased police presence, mandatory locked building doors where visitors must buzz in and show identification, updated emergency plans, training of all staff in active shooter response situations, the placement of cameras inside and outside of the schools and buses, the addition of two-way radios to contact police or other buildings and an increased clinical counselor presence.
Carrollton’s school board opted out because of the gap between what its community would be asked to contribute and what the district would receive. According to estimates provided by the Stark County Auditor’s Office, Carrollton residents and businesses would have contributed $912,415 while the school system would receive less than $432,000. The estimates are based on current property valuation and enrollment.
“We acknowledge the importance of mental health and security services of all students, however, the district would surrender half of the collected taxes to districts outside our county,” the school board wrote in a statement following its vote.
The board also noted the population of Carroll County continues to decline, which likely would mean the school district would receive less funding in the future since the joint levy is being distributed based on enrollment.
Similar to Carrollton, the Jackson Local community also will contribute more money to the levy than what the school district will receive. According to the auditor’s estimates, Jackson stands to contribute roughly $2.1 million in annual revenue – with businesses contributing the bulk of the tax – while the school district will receive only $1.4 million to fund its own safety improvements.
But board members, who unanimously approved pursing the joint levy, said Monday they supported the tax measure because of its broader benefits to help improve the safety and security of students.
“We have students at other districts coming to Jackson, we have students and their families eating in Jackson restaurants and shopping in Jackson retail establishments, so we’re touching students from all over the county,” said board member Christopher Goff.
Multiple school leaders said their districts opted in because they plan to use the money generated by the proposed levy to hire at least one additional school resource officer, as well as bolster the number of mental health counselors available for students.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or email@example.com.
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