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North Marion to pursue local option levy in May

North Marion School District is hoping the second time is a charm.

The district’s school board voted last Monday to put a local option levy on the May election ballot, even though the same levy was turned down by voters in November.

Board member Patrick McArthur, who is heading up the political action committee, noted that because the difference was only 63 votes, the board thought a “yes” vote this time around would be achievable, especially since the fall’s ballots arrived the same week as residents’ tax bills. Additionally, the last time around, only 1,939 of 4,821 registered voters turned in their ballots.

“We think some people forgot to vote, and some were in support of the levy but hadn’t heard much argument against it so they didn’t vote,” McArthur said.

The political action committee hopes to increase that number in May’s election by targeting community members who don’t have children in the schools as well as high school seniors who’ve recently turned 18.

“We talked to a bunch of folks in the community and a couple things we heard were we need more specifics on how we’re going to spend the money,” he added.

The district has specified the money will go toward building improvements, bringing back additional support staff, adopting new textbooks, improving technology and upgrading security.

“The needs haven’t gone away,” said Superintendent Boyd Keyser. “And there’s no way to do it within our annual operating budget.”

Although school districts are predicted to receive more money for this coming budget year than in recent years, it’s not enough, Keyser said.

“The cuts we have experienced have been over a period of time and have been really deep,” he said. “Yeah, we’re getting more money, but we’re playing from behind so we’re not able to solve all the challenges we’re facing (with the operating budget).”

The four-year levy is $0.74 per $1,000 assessed, starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2018. It would raise an estimated $583,336 the first year, $595,000 the second year, $606,902 the third year and $619,040 the fourth year. Additionally, a passed measure would make the district eligible for a State Equalization Grant, which matches 53 percent of the local option proceeds, meaning the district would also get $309,168 more in 2014 (future years are not guaranteed) with no additional taxes to property owners.

“That grant would mean so much,” McArthur said. “We also know that even with the levy increase, patrons would still be paying the lowest taxes in the tri-county region.”

Keyser also pointed out that the district is looking at a bond in the next few years, which would go into effect in 2018, when the current building bond and this local option levy would expire.

“It would be an opportunity to go out for a new bond without raising taxes on our patrons,” Keyser said.

With the new targeting strategies, McArthur is more confident in getting the levy passed this time around.

“If the margin widened, that might give us pause whether we’d try again,” he said. “Voters will tell you one way or the other.”



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