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More than a primary. Voters in some Northeast Ohio cities also have school levies on the May 2 ballot

Parma City School District headquarters.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Parma City School District's headquarters.

Some school districts in Northeast Ohio are seeking new money through levies and bond issues that will be on the May 2 ballot, with some seeking to construct new buildings while others are hoping to stay afloat amid challenging economic times.

But it might be an uphill battle for some, considering past failed attempts to get levies passed, including in the Parma City School District and Beachwood City Schools in Cuyahoga County and North Ridgeville City School District in Lorain County.

Cuyahoga County

Garfield Heights will have a combined bond issue and school levy on the ballot to fund construction of a new middle school and outdoor complex at Garfield Heights High School. According to the ballot, voters are being asked to approve a 2.6-mill bond issue ($81 per year for each $100,000 of property value) and an 8.6-mill levy to fund general improvements ($301 per year for each $100,000 of property value).

However, the school district says on its website that property owners won’t pay any new tax until 2027 due to an expiring previous bond meant to pay for a new high school. School officials didn’t respond to a request for comment sent Friday asking for clarification.

Parma schools are now on their fourth attempt at getting a 4-mill bond issue approved ($140.04 per $100,000 of property), meant to fund construction of a new high school on the site of Parma Senior High School that will house the consolidated population of the district’s three current high schools. Superintendent Charles Smialek has previously said new facilities at the district are needed due to aging infrastructure, and the closure of the three current high school buildings will save money down the road.

What's the difference between a bond issue and a levy? And how can you calculate how much a levy costs based on the millage?

Meanwhile, Beachwood City Schools is also seeking a 3.95-mill bond issue this May to fund construction of two new elementary school buildings and renovate the district’s early childhood education center. Beachwood City Council agreed to offer a reprieve of the city’s 2.4-mill levy for several years if the bond issue passes in order to incentivize voter support for the new developments.

Beachwood City Schools had previously tried to get a bond issue passed in 2018 that would have consolidated the elementary schools into one building, but that failed by five votes, which Superintendent Robert Hardis said was interpreted as a dislike of that option.

Finally, Independence Local School District is seeking a new school levy to replace an expiring one, requesting a 13.96-mill replacement levy total that will bring in about $7.2 million per year, as opposed to $4.2 million per year under the current, expiring levy. Cleveland.com reports it will be used to help the school district keep up with increasing costs and pay for newly expanded security, athletic programs, and career development; it could also help fund tuition-free pre-kindergarten programs and armed law enforcement officers in each school.

Summit County

Springfield Local School District, which is currently under a state of fiscal watch by the state, has struggled to get school levies and bond issues passed, said Board of Education Chair Cynthia Frola, subsisting on an operating levy from 2000 with no new money approved by voters since then.

Frola said the 3.77-mill, five-year levy will help the district build back programming – things like arts, music and career preparation – that have been cut over the years due to the district’s declining revenue. Plus, the district will be able to bring back full bussing service and reduce the fees student-athletes’ families pay, from $300 per student down to $150.

“I was the high school principal at Springfield for 20 years, and what I’ve seen these kids lose is why I’m working so hard on this levy,” she said.

Stark County

Canton City School District is seeking a 4.3-mill bond issue that will allow the district to build new elementary schools at the current sites of Souers and Mason schools at a cost of roughly $60 million. The district had planned to move McKinley High School from its current location at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and build a new high school at a different location but postponed that plan due to how expensive the project had become.

Perry Local School District is also seeking a 7.3-mill, five-year operating levy to help keep things running after it hit deficit spending in 2020, only to receive a Band-Aid during the pandemic due to federal pandemic relief given to schools. The district hasn’t seen a new-money operating levy passed since 1996, The Independent in Stark County reported.

Voters did approve a bond issue three years ago, but that funding was only earmarked to build new elementary schools and for other facility-specific purposes.

Portage County

Waterloo Local School District is seeking a five-year, 8.3-mill tax levy renewal and increase to help prevent an operating deficit. According to posts on a school levy advocacy Facebook page called Waterloo Needs You 2023, the district has not had a new levy passed since 2013. There’s some discussion on consolidation of the school district with others but slides from a district presentation argue that will result in a lengthy, complicated process that will ultimately result in higher taxes regardless.

Ravenna City School District is also seeking new money in the form of a 6.9-mill, five-year levy. A website created by levy advocates notes the district hasn’t sought a new operating levy since 2005. It says the money will be used to purchase a new math curriculum, improved electives in robotics and science, technology, engineering and math, develop a new entrepreneurial pathway at the high school and retain teachers.

Medina County

Brunswick City School District and Buckeye Local School District are both seeking approval of bond issues, with Buckeye seeking a 5.6-mill bond issue and Brunswick seeking a 3.33-mill bond issue. The Buckeye bond issue will be used to build a new grade 7-12 building with new athletic facilities to compliment it.

The Brunswick levy would go towards the construction of a new high school along with new athletic and performing arts facilities and add new classrooms at Applewood and Kidder elementary schools, according to the district’s website. News 5 Cleveland ran a story in September 2022 showing the deteriorating conditions of the high school.

Lorain County

North Ridgeville City School District is again seeking approval of a bond issue(at 8.32 mills) to build a new high school and elementary school. The district had previously tried and failed to get a similar bond issue passed in November 2022, along with a failed operating levy attempt in May 2022.

The district on its website says the district is facing “unprecedented growth, drastic space needs and aging infrastructure,” with the potential for increased class sizes and eliminating some course offerings if the bond issue fails.

Midview Local School District is also seeking approval of an 8.69-mill operating levy, although a previous attempt in November 2022 failed as well.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.