Norwalk schools asking for renewal of 'existing levy'

Cary Ashby • Jul 21, 2018 at 10:00 PM

Norwalk City Schools is delivering a couple messages for the voters about its renewal levy: It’s not a new tax and the district has been a good steward of taxpayers’ money.

“We are taking the existing levy and renewing it,” board vice-president John Lendrum said, pointing out if the levy passes, it would generate the same amount of money as it did beforehand. 

On Tuesday, the board approved a 4.85-mill levy that will generate about $1.54 million annually for the next 10 years. At 3-2, the vote was close with board members Steve Linder and Ralph Ritzenthaler voting against each step.

Superintendent George Fisk outlined the factors he believes are the most important.

“This is a renewal levy that does not raise taxes on our community. NCSD has been good stewards of the taxpayers’ funds, increased academic performance and provides area leading educational offerings for our students,” he said.

During the meeting, Linder said he wasn’t sure if the board had done enough on behalf of the taxpayers. Linder, in an interview later this week, said the biggest challenge is “getting the public to vote for the levy.” Also, he said the message needs to be “there is a true need for a levy and that we will be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

“The reason for the 3-2 vote was we had a public meeting and everyone in attendance was in favor of an earned income tax compared to a property tax. I voted the way taxpayers ask me to,” Linder added.

Fisk was asked what message the district needs to deliver to the voters about the levy.

“Our message will be that NCSD has lived within our means by spending less than the revenue we have been given for the past three years. I believe this dedication to fiscal responsibility along with our careful investment in STEM programming and improvements to our academic offerings, demonstrates that NCSD is using the levy funds as requested by the community in 2014,” the superintendent said.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“This renewal levy does not increase taxes. It is of vital importance for continuing the positive momentum within our district. These funds allow for our schools to be staffed with amazing individuals, equipped with current curricular materials, student access to cutting-edge technology and programming that prepares our students for success in life after high school,” Fisk said.

Board president Lisa Wick agreed with the superintendent.

“We have the best administrative team with George, (director of operations) Corey (Ream) and (treasurer) Joyce (Dupont) to lead our district and do what’s best for our students and staff. We offer many opportunities for students to excel in their education at NCSD,” Wick said.

Lendrum said he believes the school system has done a good job of being stewards of using available money. The levy, if passed, will help the district get by until the debt on Norwalk High School is nearly paid off or down to a reasonable amount, he added.

Until then, he said it’s not appropriate to ask for the community’s support in creating new buildings or consolidation. Lendrum added that the board eventually will have come up with a comprehensive plan and re-evaluate the levy situation.

Addressing an issue brought up at Tuesday’s meeting, he said there is some merit to the thought there are too many buildings in the district and they are old. However, Lendrum said the school system needs to repair and take of what it has at the present time.

“This is a renewal, not new taxes. Over the past four years, NCSD has been fiscal responsible and have continued to provide each student a quality education,” board member Beth Schnellinger said.  

“The message is that this is a renewal only. No new taxes. NCSD has been within the budget and continues to upgrade educational programs, technology and academic success,” she added. “NCSD has been and will continue to respect and use taxpayers’ money with due diligence and will continue to offer students various educational opportunities.”

Ritzenthaler has supported an earned-income levy.

“Once again this levy only targets property owners. There are alternative methods of funding our school district that this board needs to consider which would increase revenue and include more contributors than just property owners,” he said.

Ritzenthaler was asked what message the district needs to deliver.

“There is a definite need to increase the school revenue, just like families need raises from time to time. I feel our residents are looking for a tax program that offers increases to the district without having to come back every few years. Some of those methods were discussed, but all died at the table,” he said.

“It is a major challenge to get any levy passed; you just have to choose the correct one. The board held a public levy meeting on April 30 and approximately 30 people from the district expressed a strong interest in running an earned-income tax levy. This type of levy would give relief to property owners, widen the tax base and secure the district financially for possibly 20 or more years. If the district would take advantage of an alternative tax that many districts are leaning to and that may cover 20 or more years without going back to voters, why not run with it.”

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