Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made a wise decision when he vetoed a last-minute amendment to the state biennium budget bill that would have significantly lowered school property taxes in Hunting Valley, one of the wealthiest communities in Ohio, and slashed millions of operating dollars from the Orange City School District.
This push for a legislative way out of paying property taxes to the public school system is no surprise. Hunting Valley officials have been complaining for years about their school taxes, saying the Orange district spends too much money on students, teachers’ salaries and operational costs such as busing.
Hunting Valley residents could run for a seat on the school board or start a local conversation if they really wanted to effect change. Instead,village officials hired the lobbying firm of Batchelder Company last year, paying them $3,000 a month to find a legislative fix. The result was a secretive, last-minute amendment written specifically for Hunting Valley landowners.
The lack of open discussion on this 11th hour amendment was shameful. Why sneak around if this issue had true merit?
Orange Village Mayor Kathy Mulcahy’s characterization of the move as “sleazy and contrary to the social contract that we all share,” is right on target.
This amendment would have given Hunting Valley an unfair and unnecessary break.
The Orange school district is made up of eight communities – the entire villages of Hunting Valley, Orange, Woodmere and Moreland Hills as well as Pepper Pike city and sections of Bedford Heights, Solon and Warrensville Heights. All pay the same rate of property taxes to the school district.
Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, who is the Senate finance chairman, said only 27 of the Orange district’s 2,000 students are from Hunting Valley, making the village’s collective payment disproportionate at $212,000 per student annually when the district spends about $20,000 per pupil in an academic year. Most Hunting Valley students attend private schools, local residents say.
We find this argument and crunching of numbers highly flawed. All Ohio public school districts are funded through property tax valuations, not per student.
Hunting Valley has about 700 residents and a median home value of about $1.3 million. We are confident that there are houses with similar property values in the other communities that make up the Orange district paying the same rate of property taxes. And we are confident that some residents in these other district communities also send their children to private schools. Giving Hunting Valley a tax break would mean everyone else would have to pay more. That’s not right or fair.
There also were conflicting numbers on the exact impact of the failed amendment. Hunting Valley Finance Director Brian Coughlin claimed the measure would have decreased the school district’s tax revenue from Hunting Valley by about $3.2 million per year. Orange school district Treasurer Todd Puster put the annual cut at $6 million. Orange now receives $6.5 million in land tax revenue each year from Hunting Valley, according to Mr. Puster.
Another point left out of the conversation is that public schools are responsible for a number of services to students whether they attend public, private or parochial schools, such as transportation to and from school.
Not all Hunting Valley residents question the amount of their tax payments. Some parents in the village have said publically that they moved here because of the quality of the Orange schools.
Besides the inequity of this failed amendment, we must remember the critical importance of a strong public school system in every community. Mayor Mulcahy’s reference to the social contract we share should remind us all of our commitment to support public schools and the role they play in our neighborhoods.
We all have a responsibility to equitably support our public school district. Children are our future.