By Evan Bevins
The Marietta Times
NEW MATAMORAS - If residents of the Frontier Local school district reject the 0.75 percent income tax levy the board of education voted to place on the November ballot Thursday, a property tax levy probably won't be far behind.
"I'm only going to put it up once," Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder told the nearly 30 people in attendance at Thursday's board of education meeting at Frontier High School. "If you don't want it, I'm going to recommend to the board a property tax."
And if that doesn't pass, New Matamoras Elementary could be on the chopping block, he said. Lawrence Elementary is already slated to close next year in a cost-saving move.
In addition to fielding questions about the levy, which the board approved unanimously, Kidder and other district officials discussed the plan to close Lawrence Elementary School after school this year and how to divide the students among the district's two remaining elementaries.
The levy would take 75 cents from every $100 earned on a Frontier district resident's paycheck. The target amount of revenue for it to raise would be $435,000, which would be the equivalent of a 7.3-mill property tax levy, according to state Tax Department figures.
Based on the most recent tax statistics, the income tax rate needed to raise $435,000 is closer to 0.66 percent; however, state law only allows school income tax levies in quarter-of-a-percent increments. The income tax will be a flat rate. Unlike a property tax levy, it cannot be adjusted up or down to capture a certain amount of revenue.
One-third of the revenue would go to permanent improvements such as buses, textbooks and roof repairs. The rest would be used for day-to-day operations, which Kidder said could include restoring elementary art and music classes and high school electives.
Newport resident Marion Bell Cody, 54, said she would support a property tax over an income tax because the burden would be spread over more people.
"Everybody should pay or nobody should pay," she said.
Kidder said it takes 18 months for full collection of the income tax revenue to start. Since a property tax can start drawing revenue sooner, he said, he presented the income tax first.
Placing both issues on the ballot, as Bell Cody suggested, might have resulted in neither passing, Kidder said.
"That splits whatever yes vote I might have. I believe I would end up with nothing," he said.
"You might end up with nothing anyway," Bell Cody said.
"I might," Kidder agreed.
Some residents criticized the 1.5 percent raise granted to district teachers last year, especially if those teachers live outside the district and wouldn't have to pay the income tax. Kidder said that was done to offset an increase in insurance rates.
He noted that a study three years ago found the lifetime earnings of a teacher who remained in the Frontier district for their entire career was the third-lowest in Ohio.
"I think we've done a good job of being stewards of your money," Kidder said.
Asked what would happen if no new money was generated, Kidder said the next step would be to eventually consolidate all of the district's kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students into Newport Elementary School.
One resident asked if that could be done now, but Kidder said there are too many students to fit at Newport, something that could change if the district's enrollment continues to decline.
"I've got to drop about 50 more kids and then maybe you can squeeze into Newport," he said.
The district had 1,027 students in 1996 compared to 803 at the end of the last school year. That downward trend, combined with the loss of federal stimulus and other funds and a reduction in state aid by about $90,000, created the need for additional revenue, Treasurer Frank Antill said.
"We were able to pay salaries out of those federal monies that no longer exist," he said.
More than 75 percent of the district's funding comes from the state and federal government.
"Anything that happens at the federal and state level happens to us," Antill said.
Kidder said closing Lawrence would save $170,000, not including teachers' salaries. That amount depends on what elementary school configuration is chosen.
Splitting the Lawrence students between Newport and New Matamoras would allow the district to eliminate four teaching positions, saving an estimated $200,000 a year. Making New Matamoras a kindergarten-through-third-grade school and Newport a fourth-through-sixth facility would save more but that plan drew a lot of criticism.
Lawrence Township resident Aaron Bills, 30, said that could result in his three children going to three different schools.
Kidder said he was simply laying out the options and that the configuration of the elementary schools would ultimately be up to residents. He expects a final decision to be made by the board in December.
"You folks tell those five board members how you want your elementaries to look," he said. "And I'll do whatever they tell me. I work for them."