Talawanda faces tough decisions after levy failure

By Corbett Haase

Talawanda families need to prepare for longer bus rides to and from school, football games without a band, and the elimination of elementary school science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The Talawanda Board of Education is considering additional cuts it will have to make after a tax levy failed in November. Already this semester, the district has increased the participation fee for high school sports and band to $170 and eliminated transportation for the band and school teams.

Without the levy, the school district plans to cut $5 million from the budget over three years to bring spending in line with current revenue, said the district’s director of communication and public engagement, Holli Hansel. “The cuts and cost savings measures are not enough,” she said. “The measures being implemented are just keeping the district going.”

“The longer the financial crisis goes on, the more cuts we will have to make, the more programs we will have to have to look at,” she said. “Nobody wants the state to come in and take over your school district because they will take it down to state minimums. And in order to stop the state from coming in right now, you have to make cuts. That way, at least the local people are making decisions about what those cuts are.” 

Some of the cuts being considered by the board are:

  • Cutting spring band and athletic extracurricular programs, saving the district about $22,000 
  • Cutting full day kindergarten programs, saving up to $317,000 
  • Eliminating STEM classes, saving $63,000
  • Eliminating elementary school art, music and physical education classes, shortening the school day and saving $827,000
  • Eliminating elementary school counselors, saving $290,000

The state of Ohio does not legally require school districts to provide busing to students, so bus programs will likely be first to be eliminated, said Emily Greenberg, a parent and treasurer of the levy committee. 

The cuts were necessitated by the failure of the 5.7 million levy, which would have raised $4.8 million. It won approval by only 34% of voters. 

Greenberg said she thought voters “were voting based on their personal situation, whether it is unhappiness with how they assume the board is managing the district or a petty reason … they are not seeing the big picture.”

According to Hansel, the levy did not pass because in a lot of cases, people in this area can’t afford increased taxes. “They were saying it is not right that local taxpayers are making up this much of the amount. They were just tired of it. And so this creates disharmony between the school system and the taxpayers,” Hansel said. “The state and school system need a better partnership. It can’t be that 80% is paid by the local community. It can’t be that any longer.” 

The national average cost of education per student is $12,000. The state of Ohio allocates approximately $2,500 to every student, leaving the local taxpayers to make up the difference. Talawanda spends a total of $14,000 per student, before the cuts. 

“At the end of the day, we can’t blame the school board for having to make hard decisions right now. We can blame voters for putting our kids in this position,” said Andy Rice, an assistant professor at Miami University with two children in Talawanda schools. “I wish we had more voter turnout. Not having that levy passed, it is going to hurt our community and hurt our kids.”