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Listening To Bellaire Voters

December 11, 2013
By THE INTELLIGENCER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Bellaire school officials have made some tough decisions during the past few years. They have reduced staff and cut programs in attempts to get the district's budget back in balance.

But voters appear to expect the board to make even more difficult choices. Otherwise, the prospect that a new tax levy to support schools will be approved appears bleak.

Yet the Bellaire Local Board of Education is trying again. This week, board members began the process of getting another tax referendum on the ballot for the May election.

If recent history is any guide, voters will say no - again. During the past three years they have turned down school levy proposals seven times.

Most recently, voters rejected a levy in November, by a 1,349-1,154 vote. The proposal was for a five-year, 5.9-mill property tax levy intended to provide about $687,000 a year for Bellaire schools.

This week, board members discussed asking for slightly more - $698,325 a year - in May.

It is easy to see why school officials think local taxpayers should provide more for public education. None of the other six school districts in Belmont County receives less local revenue, on a per-pupil basis, according to state Department of Education figures. During the 2011-12 school year, Bellaire Local Schools obtained $2,721 per pupil from local sources; the next lowest total was $2,981 in Martins Ferry City Schools.

But some voters appear to have their eyes on another figure - per-pupil spending. Also according to a state report, Bellaire schools spent $10,556 per pupil during the 2011-12 school year - more than $1,000 more than the next-highest spending district (Barnesville Exempted Village Schools, at $9,391).

Educators everywhere walk a fine line on taxes. They want to offer the best programs they can. But many voters seem to believe holding taxes down should be a priority, even if that requires more discipline on school spending.

Bellaire voters appear to have expressed that opinion forcefully seven times during the past three years. Unless the board of education provides evidence it understands the electorate's verdict and is doing something about it, it is difficult to see what will be gained by another tax proposal that is likely to be rejected.

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