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Oak Hills school levy goes down in flames

Posted at 8:54 AM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-08 19:39:28-04

Editor's note: A prior version of this story misstated the back-to-school date for Oak Hills. Classes resume Aug. 14. WCPO regrets this error.

DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- There was only one thing on the ballot in Hamilton County on Tuesday.

It went down in flames.

The Oak Hills Local School District, in Green and Delhi townships in the western part of the county, asked voters for a property tax increase.

Not a single precinct in the district supported it. The levy lost big, with 76 percent of voters rejecting it. Jonathan Sweet, who has four children in the district, was disappointed it didn't pass.

"We trust the school board, the superintendent, people in the administration. If they say there’s a need going into the levy, we felt there’s a need there from an operating and safety standpoint," Sweet said.

The increase would've cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $171.50 a year. A small part -- 30 percent -- would've paid for increased security, while 70 percent would've gone to operating costs.

Oak Hills is the county's third-largest school system, with about 7,800 students in preschool through 12 grade. Classes resume next Tuesday.

Superintendent Jeff Brandt said district leaders will "hit the reset button" and "have some deeper conversations."

"We've heard from our community. We'll have to go back, tighten the belt. Look at our options. Look at the budgets. We'll have some tough decisions to make moving forward," he said.

About 85 percent of the district budget goes to personnel and benefits, Brandt said. Another 10 percent is fixed costs, like utilities, leaving about 5 percent of the budget that's discretionary spending.

"There's not a lot of stretch in any one of those budgets. We're already quite honestly at bare minimum in all of the budgets," he said.

Jason McKee, who also has four children in the district, thinks the levy might've had a better chance of passing if school leaders were more forthright about its purpose.

"Having seen a lot of going on social media-wise, folks thought primarily it was for school security. When it turned out it was mostly for an operating levy, I think a lot of people felt misled," McKee said.

In a statement Tuesday night, the district said it's now projected to be operating at a deficit in the next 12 to 18 months. McKee expects there's another levy proposal on the horizon.

"They need to be a lot more transparent. There needs to be more communication. You can’t do a couple town hall meetings. There could’ve been more," he said.