We often say that schools are a “people” business — we are focused on helping young people become the best they can be. That is why, when you look at our district finances, the majority of our budget — 78% in the 2020-2021 school year — goes to supporting students in our classrooms. In fact, Upper Arlington Schools is the No. 1 district of the more than 600 in the state of Ohio for the percentage of funding dedicated to the classroom. That also means that our district is No. 1 in the state for the lowest percentage of funding (22%) dedicated to non-classroom expenses, including administrative costs.
In order to keep our financial focus on the classroom, it’s critical to understand just how many people we will be serving both now and in the future. That is why we have an outside agency conduct an independent enrollment projection study for our schools each year. These experts look at everything from real estate trends to birth data to project how many students will be enrolled in our schools during the next 10 years.
Looking at the past 10 years, our student enrollment has grown by approximately 7%. The most recent projections indicate that our schools could see an increase of as much as 24.6% — or approximately 1,500 students — over the next 10 years.
These figures signify what many Upper Arlington residents already know. Our community is a wonderful place to live and to raise children, and many young families are moving into our neighborhoods as housing turns over.
Our growing enrollment is one reason why, after delaying an operating levy request for the past two years, the Board of Education is returning to the ballot on November 8. Issue 5 is a 6.9 mill continuing operating levy that would fund daily operations and maintain current academic programming so that the district can continue providing the current quality of education for Upper Arlington’s students while also responding to current and projected enrollment growth districtwide.
I’m often asked why the district has to request a tax increase just to continue offering the current level of academic programming. Operating levies are the main way a district like ours can keep up with inflation, the rising costs of doing business and the costs of our growing enrollment.
Our schools are largely funded by local property tax dollars. But a state law known as House Bill 920 ensures the funding to our schools from property taxes for voted operating levies does not grow with inflation. Simply put, as property values increase, the school tax rate decreases, so that schools get the same amount of revenue for voted operating levies.
Our state funding has also remained steady for about 30 years. In fact, our district actually received about $600,000 less in state foundation aid last year than we did back in 1999.
Another question I’m often asked is, “What if Issue 5 fails?” Because the Board of Education has delayed a levy request for the past two years, if Issue 5 fails, approximately $11 million — about 100 positions — would have to be cut from the district’s budget in the first year. This would amount to a significant restructuring of the district including cuts to academic programming and extracurricular opportunities for students.
You can find more answers to frequently asked questions about Issue 5 on our website at www.uaschools.org/Issue5.aspx. If you have additional questions, please reach out to [email protected].
Paul Imhoff, Ed.D., is superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @imhoffpaul.