ST. PARIS, Ohio (WDTN) – Graham City Schools has one of the best high school wrestling programs in the country. The school has been recognized at state and national levels for its Pathway and academic programs for students. It’s also a district hurting from a small budget and lack of state funding.
A ‘new money’ school levy has not passed in the Graham school district in 26 years. In 2014, the district failed to pass a levy which cost the school system $2.4 million dollars and 25 students.
After failing to pass levies in May and November last year, Graham cut $1.5 million from its budget and laid off 15 people.
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According to Superintendent Kirk Koennecke, passing the 1-percent income tax levy on the ballot for the May 7 election would only restore last year’s previous cuts.
“If we fail, we’ll be back on the ballot in November,” Koennecke said. “But the need won’t be going away.”
Public schools and the big picture
St. Paris is a rural community that’s not been receptive to tax increases. Koennecke said the district recently began working with community members to form district strategies and held coffee talks between administrators, teachers and residents.
The area also has a staunchly conservative base that’s skeptical of taxes.
“I think there is a small concerted group who in general is anti-government and anti-tax of any kind,” Koennecke said. “We try to listen to them and share our story and tell them our needs. How we spend money is important to everyone here and we want them to know they’ll get good return on investment.”
Koennecke said he believed public schools have gained an unfair reputation for several years and is just starting to recover. Last May, the levy failed by around 100 votes, and the November levy gained more new voters than any previous levy in years.
“My opinion, there’s a lot of negative news, criticism and charges about problems with public schooling going on 15 to 20 years now,” Koennecke said. “That feeling resonates with people in Graham and with people across America. But I think things are starting to change and people are slowly realizing the problems we have with public schools, and the competition you’re in with your neighboring districts.”
Koennecke said help won’t be coming from the state. Changes in state funding have some districts excited they’ll receive more money, but that’s not the case with Graham. The district is at the state floor as far as funding, according to Koennecke, and the funding change won’t be adding anything for Graham.
That leaves it to voters, who may say no again, cutting to the state minimum after the previous failed levy cut 33 percent off transportation since last May.