Financial stability is a key aim of Clinton-Massie tax levy, says Supt. Baker

By Gary Huffenberger -

ADAMS TOWNSHIP — Stabilizing finances within Clinton-Massie schools would allow the district to focus on expanding opportunities for students of all needs and abilities.

That is one key reason to consider approving a 0.5 percent (½ of 1 percent) Clinton-Massie earnings tax on the May ballot, said Superintendent Matt Baker.

But that’s not the only reason in favor of the tax, he said.

Financial stability would also allow the school district to strengthen the training and longevity of its staff.

“To be the best in the region we need to increase our graduation rate, meet more state indicators on the report card, continue to expand our focus on a safe and secure facility, and increase our resources to help students with special needs while accelerating those who are gifted. This takes an investment in people and materials,” added Baker.

If approved by district residents, the tax is projected to raise a little less than $1.2 million annually for the school district for a five-year duration.

The superintendent said Clinton-Massie Local Schools has tried to be good stewards of the community’s tax dollars. But as unfunded state mandates and expenses have risen, district officials are forced to propose “the only system the state gives us for increased revenue, a tax levy,” he said.

Baker quoted a saying in business that states you cannot cut your way to prosperity.

“Since Fiscal Year ’10, Clinton-Massie Local Schools has cut more than $3 million worth of resources and payroll. These cuts have resulted in our district losing teaching positions and support staff while closing programs that benefit our students,” he continued.

The Clinton-Massie Board of Education understands the proposed earned income tax levy may not be the right fit for everyone, according to the superintendent.

“Some high-income wage earners with little or no connection to the school may not be able to justify their increase in taxes. As I heard a local resident say recently, ‘That does not mean they hate Clinton-Massie or they do not support what we are doing here’,” Baker said.

But the State of Ohio provides basically one option to increase revenue, he said, and that’s to ask for more local support either through property or income taxes, he said.

“The [public school funding] system is broken and has been proven unconstitutional numerous times, but that is the system we must work within,” commented Baker.

Clinton-Massie Local Schools District is subject to many state-controlled parameters, he said, where it’s not an option for schools to say ‘no’ to certain expenses.

“Imagine the state comes into your household and says in order to keep your home, you must raise your temperature to a state-determined number no matter what the cost. You must also run fans constantly to exchange the air and produce acceptable numbers for air quality standards,” Baker said by way of examples.

“Another example would be that cheap meal that you wanted to purchase does not meet the standards the state says you can serve in your household. You are told by the state, with the threat of funding being pulled, that you must purchase more expensive food and give it to your family even if they refuse to eat it,” he said.

What about the state’s upcoming biennial budget update? How might it affect district finances?

The State of Ohio budget for 2020-21 would have Clinton-Massie still on the guarantee, with no projected increase of funding for the instruction of students, said the superintendent.

“The Cupp-Patterson proposed school funding model — just now in its infancy — will have Clinton-Massie Local Schools losing $50,000 compared to our current funding model,” Baker said on Friday, April 5.

He mentions he hears comments and receives emails stating things such as “I have a budget at my household and if I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it.” Baker said he respects that perspective, but there is “a large difference in a household budget and a state-supported public school, not just in dollar figures but in adaptability to deficit spending.”

That is when Baker gave examples of unfunded mandates placed upon schools by government.

At a February school board session, board President Jeremy Lamb said elimination of high school busing is not a feasible option and thus will not be discussed further. That’s because, after an analysis, it was determined that the change would not yield a significant cost savings. Last year, high school busing was on an official list of areas at risk if Clinton-Massie schools did not obtain additional funds.

Last fall, a proposed earnings tax of the same 0.5 percent rate was turned down in a vote of 2,531 against and 2,345 in favor — a difference of 186 votes across the district, which is in both Clinton and Warren Counties.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

By Gary Huffenberger