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Old money wins; new money loses when it comes to voters and Ohio schools
But there are significant exceptions and the answers can lie in everything from campaigns to karma
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE
This story is part of a special series.


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M.L. Schultze
 
Coventry Local Schools was asking for a renewal and says the feedback from parents on academics and construction has been good. Still, the levy lost.
Courtesy of Coventry Local Schools
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School tax renewals on ballots in Ohio this week passed overwhelmingly.

Additional levies, bond issues and the like largely failed. Voters did what they usually do, and said no to two-thirds of them.

Many of the districts that lost Tuesday are already gearing up campaigns for another try. As WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, a consultant who works with schools on such campaigns says they all need to be aware that most people simply don’t like paying taxes.

LISTEN: Q and A on levy campaigning and results

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LISTEN: Abbreviated school levy results

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Jerry Rampelt’s nonprofit Support Ohio Schools consults with school districts on levy campaigns. He’s crunched the numbers from this week’s results and finds the usual patterns hold. So does his chief piece of advice:  prepare for more than one campaign.

The short read on Tuesday's school tax issues results from Jerry Rampelt:

There were 158 school issues on the ballot, and the rates of passage were:
  • 96.5 percent of the 87 renewal levies passed (84 passed and 3 failed)
  • 46.6 percent of construction levies passed (7 passed and 8 failed)
  • 30.3 percent of additional operating levies passed (17 passed and 39 failed)
  • 33.8 percent of all requests for additional funds passed (24 passed and 47 failed), and that is exactly  the passage rate for additional taxes over the past three years. That means this election is not very different from past elections.
  • The passage rate is much better than the passage rate of 24% in November of 2010.

“Asking the voters to provide more money for a school district is not easy.  You’re asking people to pay higher taxes. So districts many times have to go back multiple times. They have to go out and talk to voters, have a campaign and each campaign they touch more voters and ultimately, they’re able to pass it.”

Rampelt says renewals of existing levies are usually a sure thing. Better than 96 percent pass because schools are “asking voters to keep the same level of taxes that they’re accustomed to.”

Renewals that fail
But there are exceptions. One this year was Coventry in Summit County. Rampelt says he can’t speak directly to Coventry, but when that happens, “Many times, it’s just something that’s unique to a school distridx, and what I find is that when they go back at a future date, they’re able to pass it.

“You know even though it’s generally less than 5 percent of renewals that fail, … the reality is if you take it too lightly sometimes,  the voters just vote no. But I don’t know the specifics of Coventry. It might have been a local issue, It might have been the campaign. It might have been bad karma.”

COVENTRY'S SURPRISE
More than 95 percent of renewals of school levies passed this week. But one big exception was in the Coventry Local School District in suburban Summit County. It was pushing for 10-year renewal of an operating levy. And voters -- by more than 500 votes – said no.

Superintendent Russell “Rusty” Chaboudy says the district was stunned.

LISTEN: Coventry Superintendent Chaboudy on the surprise

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“To be quite frank, we just passed a building issue and people were very excited about the renovation that took place in the summer. We have a new high school coming on line in 2016. The parents that we’ve had contact with seem very pleased; academically we’re doing very well. So we’re shocked and we’re digging for some answers.”

Save Ohio Schools, a nonprofit that tracks school ballot results says there were fewer such issues on this election than usual – about 160 of them. But the results were on par with previous elections: two-thirds of new money issues fail; 96 percent of renewals pass.

Telling people why it is worth it
But Rampelt says any levy campaign needs “a high quality campaign that reaches voters … a full- court press communications plan. There’s no substitute for that.

“You’re asking people to pay additional taxes. That doesn’t happen by accident. It takes an awful lot of work ,going out and having conversations with voters about why that’s important, why it’s needed.”

And those cases need to be made each election.

“People look at each increase in taxes as a separate event. Yes, if you have a good campaign there is carryover from campaign to campaign. But you can’t rely on (winning) last year that you’re going to win two years from now.”

Already cut
Rampelt says one unusual thing about this week’s election is how relatively few school issues were on the ballot. 

There were 158 school tax issues. “That is a significant decline over previous November elections in even years,” says Rampelt, who has checked back to 2000. He says there are likely several reasons.

“One of them is that school districts have cut their expenses significantly. That was triggered by the recession, the state cuts in revenue to school districts And as a result of those cuts, they cut a teacher five years ago. That teacher has stayed cut and they save that salary every single year.”

But Rampelt says schools – and increasingly communities – are coming to recognize that such pay freezes can’t extend into perpetuity -- and that cuts in busing, activities and services have shifted those expenses to parents.



 
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