WHY IS FOREST HILLS REQUESTING A COMBINATION LEVY IN MAY?
Money generated from the 2019 operating levy has not kept up with inflationary increases in costs outside the district’s control, including utilities, fuel and supplies. Ohio’s school funding model also does not account for inflation or adequately fund FHSD due to the wealth index factor of the funding formula, and FHSD is projected to enter deficit spending in 2023. If additional funds cannot be secured, the district will face significant reductions that could impact the quality of education.
HOW MUCH WILL THE PROPOSED LEVY COST ME?
The 6.9 mill proposal would cost an estimated $20.13 per month for a home valued at $100,000.
Home Market Value*: $100,000
Cost Per Month: $20.13
Home Market Value*: $200,000
Cost Per Month: $40.26
Home Market Value*: $300,000
Cost Per Month: $60.39
*Assessed by County Auditor
WHAT WILL THE LEVY FUND?
The 5.4 mill operating levy will fund existing costs and educational programs. It does not provide funding for any additional staff or programming that is not already in place, but it will allow FHSD to retain its talented teachers and staff members, as well as purchase textbooks and other educational materials and supplies to maintain the current level of services offered at FHSD. The 1.5 mill permanent improvement levy will be used in two ways. First, it will pay for some current costs that will be shifted from the General Fund to the Permanent Improvement Fund. These include technology expenditures, buses and costs related to facility and equipment maintenance. Based on potential reductions detailed below, remaining funds from the 1.5 mill permanent improvement levy will be used to cover the district’s most urgent capital improvement needs to maintain the function and safety of our facilities.
WHAT IS AN OPERATING LEVY?
Operating levies fund day-to-day operations such as teachers, utilities and supplies. A school levy is a local tax on the value of all residential and business property in a school district. Local school boards recommend levies for school funding, the community votes on the levy and the county collects the taxes and distributes the funds to the school district. An operating levy, once approved by the voters, is subject to a reduction factor. Although property values may increase while the levy is in effect, the amount of taxes collected on those properties do not increase.
WHAT IS A PERMANENT IMPROVEMENT LEVY?
Permanent improvement (PI) levies are used for capital improvement projects, maintenance and repairs of school property and certain pieces of equipment that are designed to last five or more years. PI funds can pay for technology, heating and air conditioning systems, roofs or other facility upgrades.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME FHSD HAD AN OPERATING LEVY?
Voters in Forest Hills passed a 4.7 mill operating levy in 2019 that was expected to provide stable funding for district expenses for three years. Emergency funding through the ESSER program allowed the district to stretch this funding beyond the original estimate.
WHAT IS A MILL?
A mill is the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property and is defined as one-tenth of a percent or one-tenth of a cent (0.1 cents). Mills are often communicated as cost per $100,000 of home property value. For example, a 6.9 mill combination levy equates to $20.13 monthly per $100,000 of home market value in Forest Hills.
HOW DOES FHSD’S SCHOOL TAX RATE COMPARE TO OTHER DISTRICTS?
Forest Hills School District has a current residential tax rate of 38.89 mills, which is below the Hamilton County district average of 43.66 mills. Approximately 53.6% of the total residential tax bill in Anderson Township, and 55.6% in the Village of Newtown, funds FHSD. The remainder helps fund other public entities and their programs.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE LEVY DOES NOT PASS?
If this levy does not pass, FHSD will implement immediate budget reductions of approximately $1.8 million in order to reduce deficit spending, including a reduction of 15 teaching positions. Ongoing and critical maintenance needs will go untouched and likely lead to more costly repairs down the road. The impact to the student and staff experience and effect on our facilities will be experienced district wide. These reductions will happen before the start of the 2023-2024 school year and will have impacts including increased class sizes at the secondary level, reduced gifted, reading and media specialists at the elementary schools, less responsive oversight of special education programs, increased pay-to-participate fees for athletics and co-curricular programs, and a shift in arrival/dismissal times across all schools.
HOW LONG IS THIS LEVY EXPECTED TO LAST, IF IT PASSES?
This levy is expected to provide stable funding for three years. During that time, FHSD will continue to evaluate how it operates and look for possible efficiencies.
WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF REVENUE FOR FHSD?
Forest Hill School District primarily relies on local taxes for its operating costs. Currently, the state only provides 26.5% of the district’s annual operating revenue while local sources amount to 70.5%. The remaining 3% of FHSD operating funds is made up of a variety of federal and local revenue sources.
HOW MUCH STATE FUNDING DOES FHSD RECEIVE?
Currently, Forest Hills School District receives 26.5% of the district’s general funding through the State of Ohio. This is less state funding than many other Ohio schools, which receive an average of 41%, according to a February 2023 report prepared by the Fordham Institute. Ohio’s school funding model does not account for inflation and is highly weighted by the wealth index, which is a community’s perceived ability to fund its own schools. FHSD is considered a “wealthy” school district based on this standard and the state subsequently provides a smaller portion of FHSD’s overall funding compared to average school districts.
HOW MUCH DOES FHSD SPEND PER STUDENT IN THE SCHOOL DISTRICT?
Forest Hills School District spends $12,857* in operating expenditures per student. The per student spending for several local school districts are as follows:
- Indian Hill Exempted Village School District: $19,330
- Cincinnati Public Schools: $18,075
- Sycamore Community Schools: $16,028
- Madeira City Schools: $13,475
- Hamilton County Average: $15,546
* Source: ODE Cupp Report FY 22
New Data - Published on April 3, 2023 (Updated from Previous Version)
HOW MUCH FUNDING IS SPENT DIRECTLY ON STUDENT INSTRUCTION?
According to the Ohio Department of Education, Forest Hills spends 74 cents from every dollar directly in the classroom.
- ODE reports that, on average, districts in Ohio spend 68.1 cents from every dollar in the classroom.
- Those numbers indicate that Forest Hills School District invests 5.9% more on classroom instruction than the average Ohio school district.
HOW DOES THE DISTRICT ACTIVELY WORK TO SAVE MONEY?
FHSD regularly looks for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively. Prior to 2019, the district made $1.5 million in permanent budget reductions from restructuring administrative, staff and operations in its effort to extend the 2012 operations levy. Since 2019, the district has made $1.2 million in further reductions to operate more efficiently and more responsibly utilize taxpayer dollars. These figures do not include the $750,000 in estimated reductions the district is making by the end of the 2022-2023 school year. These reductions are necessary to reduce total millage of the May levy and as part of the district’s obligation to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
WHY IS FHSD SEEKING ADDITIONAL FUNDING?
Money generated from the 2019 operating levy has not kept up with inflationary increases in costs outside the district’s control, including utilities and supplies. Ohio’s school funding model does not account for inflation and, as a result, FHSD is projected to enter deficit spending in 2023.
Ohio’s school funding model is designed in such a way that local taxpayers share the burden with the state to fund public education. Many school districts across the state ask voters for tax levies every few years in order to maintain normal operations, because the current system does not account for rising costs due to inflation. Ohio law, according to House Bill 920, also specifies that as home values increase, the amount of voted property taxes cannot increase which actually lowers the effective tax rate.
WHY IS A LEVY NECESSARY RIGHT NOW?
According to the five-year-forecast, the district is already operating in deficit spending and a negative cash balance is projected to occur by 2026 if the trend is not stabilized. This means FHSD would be required by law to implement significant budget reductions. H.B. 920 does not allow voted school property tax revenue to respond to inflation. As costs have gone up for items like gas, diesel, utilities and more over the last few years, no additional voted tax revenue has been added to offset those increases. Many school districts in Ohio face this challenge often and the options to respond include reducing costs through cuts, increasing revenue (typically through a tax levy) or some combination of those approaches. FHSD is making reductions of $750,000 now in conjunction with the 6.9 mill levy on the May 2, 2023 ballot.
HOW DOES HOUSE BILL 920 IMPACT SCHOOL FINANCES?
In 1976, House Bill 920 became law and has led to most school districts in Ohio returning to residents to request additional funds through tax levies. This law forces voted property tax revenues for school districts to stay the same year over year, because it does not account for inflation. Other governmental entities at the state, county and municipal level rely primarily on either income tax revenue (which increases as wages increase) or sales tax revenue (which increases as inflation drives up the cost of goods and services). However, as property values go up, the school tax rate is actually lowered by the county auditor to ensure no additional revenue is collected.