School board unanimously votes to put new levy on 2020 ballot

Henri Robbins | Online Editor

Superintendent Jonathan Cooper proposes a new levy for the Mason school district, which will appear on the ballot in 2020.

Fifteen years. That’s how long since it’s been since Mason passed their last levy, and the Superintendent has said that it’s time for another. 

After a recommendation from Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper, the Mason School Board unanimously voted ‘yes’ on a resolution of necessity for a 2020 levy at the November 19 School Board meeting, moving it past the first step to appearing on the 2020 ballot.

Before the vote, Cooper gave a presentation explaining why he supports the operating budget levy, discussing the financial needs of the school, the changes that have happened since the last successful levy, and the state of the other schools in the area. 

“New revenue or new reductions are needed at this time,” Cooper said. “Those are the only two ways that we can address that, either pulling in new revenue or, as [the community] saw in 2010, making significant reductions to our programming here at Mason.”

The last levy to pass for the Mason school district was in 2005. When a second levy in 2010 failed, Mason had to make changes to academic offerings, extracurriculars, and school staff. 

“We stopped some of the models in our schools that were good for [them] at the time because it wasn’t something we felt like we could afford,” Cooper said. “We changed the Mason Middle School teaming and went to a traditional junior high model and we changed from trimesters to a traditional model [semesters] at our high school. We closed Mason Heights to save money on that, went to wage freezes for all of our staff for 12-13 and 13-14, introduced pay-to-participate, and we consolidated bus stops and changed the whole transportation format.”

Due to the operating costs of the district and the failure of the previous levy, the operating levy was deemed necessary by the board. Cooper specified that, while the school district has recently spent a large amount on the renovations to Mason Middle School, those come from a capital budget for building construction, maintenance, and other expenditures, which is separate from the school’s operating budget. 

“You cannot mix these moneys together, they are two separate buckets,” Cooper said. “It’s the way that our funds are set up as a public school, so we’re not asking for money on this levy for capital pieces. We’re looking for people and programs to continue to support the things that we’re doing at Mason City Schools.” 

With the current levy, taxpayers would see two separate tax increases. The first would bring 4.75 mills to the school’s funding and the second, which would come into effect after a year, would bring 5.25 mills. The second would come into effect at the same time that another tax of the same value wears off, resulting in a monthly increase of $13.75 for every $100,000 of home value for taxpayers. 

“Ohio funding for schools is set up for schools to come back every three to five years,” Cooper said. “Mason has not passed an operating levy in fifteen years, so we have tried out very best to stretch the dollar as long as we can, but we’re just at a point now where we need to have this conversation more seriously.”

After the presentation, many community members spoke about their stances on the levy. General Electric (GE) Operations Vice President Casey Moran said that the levy failing would put the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) program in jeopardy, something which has been beneficial to students entering the workforce. 

“I’m very concerned about the things that are at risk,” Moran said. “As vice president of one of the largest companies in the world, General Electric, I need STEAM. I do not have enough qualified candidates coming out of high school and college right now to meet the needs that I have at General Electric, and when I see things putting that at risk, I am concerned about this school continuing to compete effectively as I’m hiring directly from high school.”

After Moran spoke at the meeting, community member Sharon Poe spoke out about her opposition of the levy. She said there were many members of the community who were forced to move after the last levy passed, and that this would put many under additional financial stress. 

“The taxpayers are taxed out,” Poe said. “The taxpayers need a break, and you are saying that there will be a 13 million dollar deficit in 2021, so instead of finding additional ways to cut costs, you’d rather cut families budgets, cut their grocery bills, cut vacations, cut buying their kids school clothing? This school board has, in the past, constantly asked these taxpayers for more money.”

While some opposed the tax, incoming school board member Desiree Batsche, who attended the school board meeting, said she was in support of the levy. She felt that the levy was the only viable option for the school to continue their operations without having to make cuts to specific aspects. 

“I had a meeting with [the] superintendent, Jonathan, and I really feel that they have done everything they can do at this point to make the most out of the resources that they have,” Batsche said. “I think there is an expectation that Mason City Schools excels as one of the best schools in the nation. People move to this community because of that, and we have an expectation in the community that the schools maintain their quality education.”

Cooper specified that the levy would be put in place to uphold the current operations of the school, as opposed to expanding. Were the levy not to pass, he said the school would potentially need to make cuts to class offerings and transportation, along with increasing class sizes and sports participation fees. 

“By law, you do not have to transport high school students,” Cooper said. “That is something we do because we believe in that and want to do that as a service. (…) If we have to cut six million dollars this summer, what we’ll do is we will look at the classroom first and say ‘what can we do to protect our students and the programs?’”

After his presentation at the school board meeting, Cooper said that the decision is ultimately in the hands of the community. 

“The purpose of it was really to give our community every piece of information that they need, in terms of the facts, so that they understand why we’re going at this time,” Cooper said. “I believe wholeheartedly that our community needs and deserves to have all the information so they can make an informed decision.”

Photos by Henri Robbins.