The Citizen's Committee for Poland Schools has kicked into high gear with a record 80 community members helping. They are meeting weekly and have been conducting a door-to-door campaign to set the record straight.
"We have discussed the hurdles and found a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about the levy," said committee member Julie Liddle.
She said a lot of residents that committee members had visited were unaware of the wage freezes that teachers in the Poland Schools have taken. That includes the STEP freeze which is similar to wage increases that teachers get for years of service.
Superintendent Don Dailey said, "[STEP] freezes were a real give back. The teachers could have set back and accepted their automatic STEP increase, but they chose to give it up."
The STEP increase is something that Dailey said is in every Ohio public school contract. He said it awards teachers for their years of service. By giving it up for the next few years, they will never be able to get it back.
"We did the math and when new teachers retire in 30 years, they will have given back $51,000," he said.
Liddle said the wage freezes help, but the state funding is also a vital issue. Over the past decade, the state has put in place a plan to eliminate the tangible personal property tax, often referred to as inventory tax that businesses pay each year. That program was accelerated and replaced with the Commercial Activity Tax, over which the state has full control.
"We lost $2.8 million from the personal property tax and received two years of stimulus funds to replace it," Liddle said. "This year we got a grant, which may not be around next year."
She said while Poland is not a heavy commercial community like Boardman, it still took a big hit. With the loss of state funds, the Poland School District gets 26 percent of its budget from the state and the remaining 74 percent has to come from local tax levies.
Taking the loss into account is one thing, but on the expense side, costs continue to rise. Items like diesel fuel and other commodities aren't dropping in price.
"State cuts in funding have cost the district $5,543,401 since 2006," Liddle said. "With zero new revenue approved by voters since 2003, the district has made substantial cuts to programs and services and has relied on the cash reserves to maintain operations."
The levy committee realized the serious nature of passing the 5.9 mill levy and bringing the $2,181,867 per year into the district to prevent further, devastating cuts. Thus, they kicked off the "A Bulldog Forever" campaign .
"The response has been great," Liddle said. "And for the first time, our levy committee is made up of more than just parents with school-aged children and teachers."
She said township and village officials have joined in as well as business owners and residents with no children in the school system. The large group has been meeting every Wednesday in the high school cafeteria to go over the progress they are making and where they need to focus.
Dailey said those who joined the committee realize how critical the levy is. He said the levy does have a direct effect on property values in Poland.
Over the next several weeks the committee will continue to hit the streets and discuss the issues. They have developed a website at www.ABulldogForever.com that has a video on the main page developed by Poland Union Principal Mike Masucci. The website was constructed through the technical efforts of Pat Williams.
Besides the website and the committee's efforts, Dailey said the electronic billboard near K-Mart on U.S. 224 will be carrying messages for the levy in the coming weeks.
"Keep your eye to the sky," Dailey said.
As for the committee, Dailey said he is pleased to see the number involved.
"They realize the imp[act this levy will have on property values in Poland," he said.
Anyone who still wants to get involved in the committee are welcome to attend the meetings. Two more are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and Nov. 1 in the high school cafeteria. Yard signs are still available through the website or by calling the Board of Education office at 330-757-7000.