HAMILTON, Ohio -- Parents, teachers and students rallied at Plains Junior High School in Hamilton on Saturday in an attempt to garner support for a school levy in a district that hasn’t voted for such an initiative since 2005.
A caravan of the supporters calling themselves the Committee for Lakota's Future gathered at neighborhood schools across the Lakota Local School District and traveled through the community to inform voters about the 5.5 mill combination levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The group then came together at Plains Junior High School at 5500 Hamilton Princeton Road to listen to why supporters believe passage of the levy is so important.
"Our selling point is it's time. It has been longer than this district has planned on. They've made almost $21 million in cuts. The cuts are hurting our kids and we need to get out and get it done. Every vote counts so we need everyone to get out there," said Libby Willms with the Committee for Lakota’s Future.
The amount of money Willms says the school district has cut from its budget is confirmed in an open letter from Superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia .
"The school budget has been tightly monitored and costs have been controlled. Over the last three years, we have reduced our annual spending by more than $20 million. We will continue to assess all areas of the district to see where we can reduce costs or re-allocate funds to meet emerging needs. These and other financial strategies will continue," she wrote.
Also in the letter is an outline of what the levy funds would go toward:
- Upgrade the district’s instructional technology infrastructure, so that all classrooms are equipped with secure modern equipment that supports student-centered learning, and offers students anytime, anywhere access to learning. The levy will also fund support services so that the equipment operates properly and teachers are trained in how best to use it in the classroom.
- Preserve the academic programming that is currently in place.
- Restore bussing to students in grades 2-6 who live farther than one mile from school.
- Strengthen our school security for our buildings and triple the number of police and deputies in the schools
- Boost participation in extra-curricular activities by reducing participation fees and instituting a family cap
- Add one more day of art, music or physical education, for grades 4-6
- Add a seventh class period to the daily schedule for ninth grade
- Maintain the 25 large buildings in the Lakota School District
Willms and other speakers at the event encouraged people in the Lakota community to take advantage of Saturday Early Voting hours at the Butler County Board of Elections during the event.
One of the people who may have been interested in voting early is Kim Reber, a levy supporter who says the additional bussing could affect her family. The mother of three daughters lives within two miles of the school district and has to transport her children to school each day.
In an interview with WCPO in September , she said the success of the levy is critical for convenience reasons and for the success of her children’s education.
“A lot of things that kids need to develop and to grow are being taken away gradually and kind of falling apart. Lakota is known for being excellent and without funding, they cannot maintain that excellence,” Reber said.
She said the stakes are so high for her family, she’s even considered moving if the levy doesn’t pass.
“When I came here, I came here because of the schools. I’m not seeing that the schools can maintain their excellence given the lack of support from the residents,” she said.
Some residents say they will never support a Lakota school tax hike because they don't think enough money is going directly to the students.
Graeme George, an 80-year-old Liberty Township resident, is a staunch opponent of school tax levies.
“We can’t influence the cost and benefits and make improvements because the unions are too much in control. We can’t work with the teachers and the school board and the public because the unions come in,” he said.
George is a member of the anti-levy group, No Lakota, which says it has plans to actively campaign for the levy’s failure once more.
Bob Hutsenpillar, a Lakota district resident and No Lakota member, said he will also vote against the levy because of “wasteful spending” towards teacher salaries.
“What they are asking for to give to students is a very small percentage of the levy,” Hutsenpillar said.
Lakota Local Schools serves students from West Chester and Liberty Townships in Butler County, and numerous municipalities in suburban Cincinnati.
If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home in those communities an extra $16 a month. It would be the first change in school property tax rates in eight years, according to Mantia.
You can read more information about the Lakota Local Schools levy at the following link: www.wcpo.com/news/education/lakota-school-district-pushes-for-levy-after-three-time-failure
9 On Your Side's Shannon Kettler and Taylor Mirfendereski contributed to this report.