Thursday, December 27, 2007

Park and Prejudice

As I mentioned in my previous post, the December meeting of the School Board included an item that was an eye-opener, at least for me. Here is the gist of it:

Apparently, since time immemorial, the Swanton School District has placed a levy on the ballot on behalf of the Swanton Park & Rec. No one is exactly certain how this began, but it has continued down through the decades on the premise that residents in the entire school district should be taxed via school district levy for Swanton Parks because some school sports functions utilize park facilities (e.g., the baseball diamond, etc.).

The park recreation system has never gone through the process of becoming an official entity, or park district, which would then give it the authority to place a levy on the ballot for itself (think Toledo Metroparks, for example, which had an item on last November's ballot in Lucas County). Rather, Swanton Park & Rec has piggy-backed onto the Swanton School District for its operating expenses: to wit, levy monies and administrative tasks (which are performed by School District personnel).

Still with me?

Perhaps it made sense, way back when this all started, even though the logic escapes me as I learn about it in 2007. . . but recent cuts in state school funding (thanks to Gov. Strickland) have forced the current School Board to seriously question the situation.

To put it more clearly, this 0.4-mil levy for the Parks effectively costs the School District $58,000+ dollars per year! Because Park & Rec has not bothered to organize into a self-supporting entity, it has cost the School District untold hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

Given our district's recent money problems, we are well within our rights to question those former School Board members who allowed this to continue during their tenure.

For a more detailed explanation of the financial implications involved, give a call to the School District treasurer, Cheryl Swisher. It will curl your hair.

At the next meeting of the School Board (January 14th, 7 p.m.) we will be discussing this issue, and no doubt representatives from Park & Rec will be in attendance. This has been a very sweet deal for them, and we expect they will want to maintain the status quo.

At the last meeting, Mr. Kahl (P&R board) made emotional statements of how the Swanton Park & Recreation system serves underprivileged children throughout the entire school district . . . . however, he gave no facts that could support the current levy situation. School board members at that meeting did not allow themselves to be put on a guilt trip that evening by Mr. Kahl, and decided to NOT put the Park levy on the March 2008 ballot. Rather, the issue was tabled until the next School Board meeting in January.

I am sure that it is a tedious paperwork process for the Park & Rec system to create a park district. Twisting the collective School Board's arm for levy money is far easier. But what is the right thing to do? Phone calls around the immediate area and around the state have proven what we surmised: there is NO school district in the state of Ohio that places a park levy on the school ballot thereby losing critical funding for its students. We are unique in Swanton - and in this case, it is not in a good way.

It is time for the Park & Rec Board to step up to the plate and create a park district, and it is time for the Swanton School Board to assist them in that process by refusing to place them on any future school levy ballots.

(Oh - as a side note, you might find it interesting to learn that, according to treasurer Cheryl Swisher, of the $58,000 the Park & Rec board has been getting each year, a full $49,000 of it goes to their staff )

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