Van Buren Local Schools

1% 5-year income tax levy for operations

March 17, 2020

Frequently-Asked Questions


The state treasurer’s office is holding $5 million from a levy approved in 2015 that the school district is trying to hide.  We just need to request the funds and our problems are solved - why hasn’t the district done this?

The district has been deficit spending for five years.  Why wait five years to do something?

Is the school district threatening the community with cuts in teachers and courses for students?

This is not a threat because Ohio law does not permit a school district to spend money it does not have in the bank. We are in desperate financial condition through no fault of our own.

What is Van Buren’s average teacher tenure versus other districts?

What are Van Buren average class sizes versus other districts?

What is our mandated services cost per pupil compared to other districts?

Bussing option for dual routes - part of the performance audit?

Would open enrollment fall if this levy fails; would Van Buren schools no longer be desirable?

If we have been deficit spending since 2015, why did salary and benefits go up $800,000 / 8% in 2018/19?

How are audit costs determined?

How often for performance audits?  What prompts that?

Breakdown of revenue sources - residential, business, state

Local tax effort - we need more clarity

How often is the ‘wealthy’ designation evaluation done?

How much does Van Buren pay for a new superintendent?  Who pays for that job?

Vanlue vs. Van Buren comparisons should be explained more

Why is it that the state won’t assist for a new building because tax valuation is too high?  Our taxes have already gone up.

What would be our current financial situation be if the building levy would have passed?

I’m retired - what about a taxable 401k?

Why is there no homestead exemption?

What about future taxes from industries such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, McClain, Campbell’s, etc.?

If 1% passes, what year of Ohio tax reporting will be used? 2019 return or 2020 return?

Will tax be based on Ohio gross income or Ohio taxable income?

How many mills is the elementary school bond and when will that come off our property tax?

Were these mills (from bond levy for elementary school) replaced with the last levy so it will be a net even?

Regarding reimbursement of the Washington, DC trip cancellation, how did Van Buren get penalized for that?

Why is a levy needed?

Why is the levy important for students and the community?

What happens if the levy fails?

Why is the Van Buren Local Schools deficit spending?

What makes Van Buren Local Schools great?

What is on the ballot?

Where is the money going?

Who will pay the levy?

Are social security benefits subject to the levy?

(I thought) there was a discretionary add on to the renewal within the last year, what is being done with that money?

Is this a renewal levy? If so, why the income tax for additional money?

Wasn't there a levy that passed in 2018 for Van Buren Schools? So this is a NEW and additional levy that will also go towards Van Buren?

Will my property taxes do down dollar for dollar?

What has Van Buren done to control costs?

If this levy does not pass what will be cut?

How do Van Buren's teacher salaries compare to others?

If the school needs this levy for operating money, how was it able to replace the bleachers?

How does Van Buren's graduation rate compare?

How does the federal funding Van Buren receives compare to other schools?

How does VB's state funding compare to other schools?

Questions from our Informational Meetings

The state treasurer’s office is holding $5 million of Van Buren’s funds from a levy approved in 2015 that the school district is trying to hide.  We just need to request the funds and our problems are solved - why hasn’t the district done this?

This is a myth.  In 2015, voters approved the renewal of a 4.1 mill emergency levy - not additional funds.  The state treasurer’s office does not hold funds for districts and if the district did have any money “hidden”, that would be uncovered through the annual fiscal audit.  Treasurer Dawn Jacobs reached out to the state treasurer to confirm this - see that communication here.

The district has been deficit spending for five years.  Why wait five years to do something?

The Board of Education made a conscious decision to use the district existing cash balance in response to the Tangible Personal Property tax (TPP) loss. The decision was made to not ask taxpayers for additional funding until absolutely necessary.

Is the school district threatening the community with cuts in teachers and courses for students?
This is not a threat because Ohio law does not permit a school district to spend money it does not have in the bank. We are in desperate financial condition through no fault of our own.

What is Van Buren’s average teacher tenure versus other districts?

Van Buren’s average teacher has 15 years of experience.  Local districts range from 13 to 21 years average teacher experience.

What are Van Buren average class sizes versus other districts?

To compare, we used the district enrollment divided by K-12 general education teachers (based on 2018-2019 data).  Van Buren‘s ratio is 18.6 students per one general education teacher.  Other area districts ranged from 11.4 students per general education teacher to 25 students per general education teacher.  Most were 17-19 students per teacher.

What is our mandated services cost per pupil compared to other districts?

This is not a data point calculated by the State and available to us, but for Van Buren we actually lose $1,280 per student based on our State Foundation deductions only.

Bussing option for dual routes - part of the performance audit?

This is a possible route the state performance audit team could take.

Would open enrollment fall if this levy fails; would Van Buren schools no longer be desirable?

Yes, we would expect our open enrollment to decrease.  We currently receive $185,000 in additional funding due to open enrollment. If the levy fails, open enrollment students will leave Van Buren and we will lose most, if not all, of that funding.  Additionally, Van Buren resident students would likely open-enroll into other districts (which would result in losing their state foundation funding) as we would lose programs and opportunities for students.

If we have been deficit spending since 2015, why did salary and benefits go up $800,000 / 8% in 2018/19?

There was a reduction in salary from 2017 to 2018 of $518,000. From 2018 to 2019 there was an increase of $517,000. The cited $800,000 amount is incorrect.

How are audit costs determined?

The audit fees are determined by the Auditor of State and charged based on the hours worked.

How often for performance audits?  What prompts that?

A performance audit is not common for K-12 school districts and is usually prompted to identify district efficiencies.

Breakdown of revenue sources - residential, business, state

This information is housed with the Hancock County Auditor’s office - we do not have a breakdown for the current tax year.  Our state revenue is referenced in the presentation and in this document.

Local tax effort - we need more clarity

Local Tax Effort Index compares the school taxes generated in each district with taxpayer incomes in each district and throughout the state. A Tax Effort Index substantially above 1 means a district’s taxpayers are paying a bigger share of school taxes compared to taxpayers around the state.

The tax effort of residents in our school district is .4738. In other words, less than half of what the State of Ohio has determined that taxpayers should contribute to their schools.

How often is the ‘wealthy’ designation evaluation done?

Wealth district designation occurs with the passage of the Biennial Budget and determination of the associated foundation (state funding) formula by state legislators.

How much does Van Buren pay for a new superintendent?  Who pays for that job?

The Superintendent is hired by the Board of Education and the salary of the position is a negotiated contract item.

Vanlue vs. Van Buren comparisons should be explained more

When there is a comparison of Van Buren with any other school district, there is never a clear comparison due to the vast differences in each school district. We do use similar districts as benchmark comparisons – normally, Vanlue is not one of our comparison districts.

Why is it that the state won’t assist for a new building because tax valuation is too high?  Our taxes have already gone up.

The state will assist, but they would only cover approximately 5% of the total project and Van Buren taxpayers would be responsible for the remaining 95% of the construction costs.  The building levy, however, provided no funds to fill the financial hole created by the loss of $2 million dollars of state funding. We would have the same problem with operating funds that we have right now.

What would be our current financial situation be if the building levy would have passed?

The passage of the building levy would have incrementally reduced overall facilities costs, but not close the gap substantially.

I’m retired - what about a taxable 401k?

The only revenue to be included in the Income Tax calculation will be any revenue required to be reported on your State of Ohio annual tax return.  For more details, reference this document from the state department of taxation:  https://www.tax.ohio.gov/portals/0/tax_analysis/tax_data_series/school_district_data/sditqa.pdf

Why is there no homestead exemption?

Homestead exemption act is attached to property tax. The proposed levy is not attached to property.

What about future taxes from industries such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, McClain, Campbell’s, etc.?

The estimates for these types of commercial properties will not reach the level of revenue to replace our loss of Tangible Personal Property taxes (TPP) .  Future taxes Van Buren may receive from these entities will not replace the $2 million lost through the elimination of the TPP.

If 1% passes, what year of Ohio tax reporting will be used? 2019 return or 2020 return?

This will based on individual incomes for calendar year 2021. This will be taxes that are actually filed in 2022.

Will tax be based on Ohio gross income or Ohio taxable income?

According to the State Department of Taxation, Ohio income tax reported on line 5 of your Ohio return, is federal adjusted gross income – plus or minus personal exemptions. This figure is then used on line 19 of the SD-100 return.

How many mills is the elementary school bond and when will that come off our property tax?

According to the County Auditor, the tax bills are collecting the final proceeds for the two remaining payments in June and December. The current millage for the bond is set at 2.3 mills and this deduction will fall off all tax bills as of December 2020.

Were these mills (from bond levy for elementary school) replaced with the last levy so it will be a net even?

The last new funding was in 2005 for operational funds. The Bond levy was only to satisfy debt service for the building. These are two different revenue streams and neither can be used to support the other.

Regarding reimbursement of the Washington, DC trip cancellation, how did Van Buren get penalized for that?

The board of education supplemented the May 2018 8th grade Washington, DC trip as the tour operator, Discovery Tours, closed abruptly, filing for bankruptcy three weeks prior to the planned departure.  In order for the trip to occur, the board paid $29,598 to pay outstanding bills related to the trip that Discovery Tours had not paid.  Families pay directly to the tour operator for this trip.  This was a similar situation that dozens of schools in Ohio and over 5,000 families found themselves in.

At that point, we shared the story publicly and between donations and refunds that parents were able to secure from credit card companies they had used to pay their Discovery Tours bills, we reclaimed $20,878.53 of that cost.  If involved families ever receive a settlement, the expectation is that they would pay that back to the board of education, however there’s been little motion on the case.  After applying the donations and refunds to date, this class trip ended up being a $8,719.47 expense to the district.

Why is a levy needed?

The State of Ohio cut funding for Van Buren Local Schools over the past 13 years. Since 2011, federal funding per pupil for Van Buren Schools decreased by 40%. Van Buren Local Schools has not received local additional operating revenue since 2004. The district is deficit spending this financial year.

Why is the levy important for students and the community?

The levy will preserve the educational excellence the district is built upon. The levy would address the budget deficit as well as allow for additional counseling and mental health services, development of Career Exploration and Development programming. Maintenance of current buildings is needed and included in the levy.

What happens if the levy fails?

Failure to find additional revenue will have a drastic impact on our educational programming. The Board of Education and administration will have to make decisions for the next budget on reductions that will have a direct impact on student education. This includes cutting teachers and, of course, opportunities for students.

Why is the Van Buren Local Schools deficit spending?

The district is deficit spending by $1.745 million this year. Since 2011, federal funding per pupil for Van Buren Schools decreased by 40%, while state funding as a percentage of total revenues fell from 35% to 26% of revenues. These losses must be absorbed by the district’s general fund budget to cover mandated services - many of which are unfunded - shifting the school funding burden to local taxpayers.

What makes Van Buren Local Schools great?

The Van Buren community has long expected that its schools deliver a comprehensive, quality education to its students. The schools have delivered, providing education that consistently meets or exceeds increasing state and federal educational requirements. This issue will allow the district to preserve the educational excellence the community has come to expect from its schools.

What is on the ballot?

The issue is 1.00% traditional school district income tax levy that will cost $1.37 per day for a taxable income of $50,000.

Where is the money going?

This levy is to raise general operating dollars for the district. General operating dollars are used for the day to day operations of the district. Including, salaries and benefits, school supplies, maintenance, custodial, and food service expenses, utility cost, special education, preschool, student College Credit Plus classes, counseling services, transportation costs, extra-curricular activities, and other educational opportunities. Passage of this levy will allow the district to maintain the current level of state and nationally rated staff and programs.

Because 70-80% of the school's expenses are teacher and staff salaries, most of the funds will be used to retain and recruit great instructors. The remainder will support other operating expenses like school supplies, busses, and utilities. Funds may also be used for building or bus maintenance, but not for any new building(s).

Who will pay the levy?

Anyone living in the school district will pay the 1% income tax. Anyone who works in the Van Buren district, but doesn't live in it, does not pay the levy.

Are social security benefits subject to the levy?

No. Social Security benefits will not be subject to the 1% levy.

(I thought) there was a discretionary add on to the renewal within the last year, what is being done with that money?

There was no discretionary add of additional funds on the renewal last fall. The only change to that levy was a change in term from a five-year voting cycle to a continuing term.

Is this a renewal levy? If so, why the income tax for additional money?

Renewal levies don’t ask for additional money. This is a new operating levy, not a renewal and not for any building. It's the first new operating money Van Buren Schools has asked for in fifteen years. Imagine not getting a raise for fifteen years, that's the situation our schools are in.

Wasn't there a levy that passed in 2018 for Van Buren Schools? So this is a NEW and additional levy that will also go towards Van Buren?

Yes, the levy passed in 2018 was a renewal. The school received no additional new funds as a result of its passage. Yes, the 1% income tax on March's ballot is a new and additional levy to go to school operating expenses (not a new building).

Will my property taxes do down dollar for dollar?

Because it's an income tax, there will be no change in anyone's property taxes. Also, because it's based on income, everyone who lives in the district will support this, not just property owners (please note that social security benefits are not subject to this levy). Every other area school already has an income tax (except Findlay). We are asking for 1%, which is 20% less than the county school average income tax of 1.2%. For someone making $25,000, this levy amounts to 67 cents a day.

What has Van Buren done to control costs?

Since the passage of the 2005 levy, Van Buren has been fiscally responsible and cost control has been accomplished by:

1) Staff contracts that have included pay freezes and below market pay increases.

2) Changes made to the district's health-care plan to reduce costs, including higher participant deductibles and employees covering a larger share of the premiums.

3) Energy projects to improve fuel and utility costs

4) Negotiated billing and cost factors with the Hancock County Educational Service Center and other local school districts for shared services for special needs students.

5) Realigned property and fleet insurance to meet current needs.

If this levy does not pass what will be cut?

Two parts to this answer.

How do Van Buren's teacher salaries compare to others?

Please see the chart (Figure III-1) that illustrates how Van Buren teachers' average salaries are slightly above our peers (area schools) and less than both the Ohio average teacher salary and what teachers are paid at similar districts. Peer schools are Findlay, Arcadia, Arlington, Cory-Rawson, Liberty-Benton, McComb, Vanlue, North Baltimore, Riverdale, and Carey.

The similar districts line composed of 20 different school districts from around Ohio with median incomes similar to Van Buren. Van Buren median income = $52,328. Similar district average median income = $43,768 (that's an average of all 20)

How does Van Buren's spending on administration compare to other schools?

This chart (Figure II-16) shows how Van Buren's spending on administration is less than its peers (area schools), the Ohio average and similar schools.

If the school needs this levy for operating money, how was it able to replace the bleachers?

Much of the funding our school receives is for specific purposes. The renewal levy approved last year has 1.5 mills earmarked for permanent improvements (it generates about $343,000 annually). That money must be used for capital improvements, not day-to-day operating expenses like salaries, utilities, and supplies.

Inspections of both sets of bleachers found them unsafe and hazardous. We, obviously, do not want anyone injured because of unsafe seating. Hence, the need to replace them. Because VB staff and volunteers did as much of the work as possible, replacing the gymnasium bleachers cost $120,000 and the football bleachers cost $400,000.  The money being used to repair the football field also comes from the permanent improvement "bucket".

How does Van Buren's graduation rate compare?

As seen in the chart below (Figure IV-3), Van Buren consistently outperforms its peers, similar districts, and the State of Ohio average in terms of student graduation rates.

How does the federal funding Van Buren receives compare to other schools?

Van Buren receives significantly less federal funding per student than its peers, similar schools, and the Ohio average. The chart below (Figure II-7) illustrates how Van Buren receives less than half the money that other schools get.

How does VB's state funding compare to other schools?

Because we are considered a "wealthy" district, Van Buren receives significantly less state funding than our peers and the average Ohio school. The chart below (Figure II-8) illustrates how our peers (local area schools) received about $3,500 more per student in state funding in 2018 than VB did.

The green line shows similar schools (those with median incomes like our district). VB also gets less state funding than them.