Kent City Schools seeking operating levy

Katie Hilbert

Voters will see a 6.9-mill operating levy for the Kent City Schools on the ballot on May 2. If it passes, Superintendent Marc Crail said the levy would raise about $3.3 million annually for the school district.

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.61 a month, $4.06 per week or $0.58 a day, he said.

The levy will be used for general expenses, Crail said. The school’s biggest expense is personnel, and he said about 85 percent of the budget goes toward paying personnel.

The other 15 percent is used for the rest of the expenses the school faces, he said, such as utilities, textbooks, school buses, gasoline and computers.

If the levy passes, Crail said, the school system doesn’t plan to add any “startlingly new” programs.

But he said the district hopes to enhance technology.

“When a computer gets to be four or five years old, it might as well be 105 years old,” he said.

He also said the schools have a number of programs that are expensive to operate, such as classes that require more teachers and fewer students like special education classes, gifted classes and career classes.

“And we’re glad that we do, and it’s worth every penny, but it pushes up costs,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to try to balance being efficient with meeting the individual needs of kids.”

Crail said the school gets about half of its money from the state and the other half from local taxpayers. The state’s economy in the past few years has gotten “pretty bad,” he said. Within the last five years or so, Crail said, the funds they’ve been getting from the state have shrunk to about 40 percent.

“That has put more pressure on the local side of things,” he said.

The budget crunch doesn’t come as a surprise, though.

“We have already made a bunch of cutbacks,” Crail said. “We could see this coming about two and a half years ago, so we have cut our costs over the past two and a half years. We’ve reduced our costs by $5 million.”

This reduction has been achieved through a variety of cost-cutting strategies like trimming the payroll, he said. When someone retires or resigns, the school system might not replace them.

Crail compares the school system’s financial approach to driving, saying it’s like seeing that a tree has fallen across the road.

“Well, you have two choices,” he said. “You can either keep going at 50 miles an hour until you get about 50 feet from the tree and slam on the brakes -some school districts do that. They keep doing what they’re doing, just like they’re doing it, until they get right up against a crisis and slam on the breaks.”

He explains that the other choice is to tap the break a little bit, in order to reduce the speed of the car gradually.

“And then you have accomplished the same thing, but it’s a lot less dramatic,” he said. “No air bags going off.”

Rebekah Wright Kulis, who is co-chairing a committee that supports the levy, recognizes what the school board has gone through to cut costs.

“Everything’s been stretched as far as it can,” said Kulis, of Wright Heating & Cooling.

Students at Theodore Roosevelt High School also are taking the time to advocate the passage of the levy.

Brent Pfeiffer, the marketing education coordinator at Roosevelt, said his students are working on a project to market the levy and to increase voter turnout among eligible student voters and Theodore Roosevelt graduates from two or three years ago.

Juniors Amy Baesemann and Sara Braden are working on this project as part of DECA, the high school’s career education class. For their project, they decided it would be important to focus on the levy and student involvement, Baesemann said.

A few of their planned activities include having a voter registration day and hosting a senior assembly where they will speak about the importance of voting.

Voters last passed a levy for the school system in May 2002, said Deborah Krutz, the treasurer of the Kent City School District.

Krutz said the 6.9-mill amount for the current levy was chosen by looking at budget needs and projecting future needs. They wanted to set a levy amount that would last them at least four years, she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Katie Hilbert at [email protected]