Many area teens envy Fairmont students because of the numerous events and activities that are offered at the high school every year. The Kettering community has come to expect these, in addition to a wide variety of course options. However, Firebirds may find some of those opportunities disappearing if money gets tight for Kettering City Schools.
In the state of Ohio, school districts rely on both state funding and local support to help schools fulfill their mission to their community’s students. That’s why all eyes are on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, when Kettering residents will head to the polls to decide whether to approve a new 4.89-mill operating levy.
A levy was originally slated for the May 7, 2013, ballot, but then Governor John Kasich proposed a new formula to determine school funding. “Because the fiscal future of education was so murky,” said Kettering Superintendent Jim Schoenlein, “we removed our levy from the ballot.” Now, with state funding in line, the district was able to lower the original 5.9-mill levy and place the new 4.89-mill levy on the upcoming ballot.
Kettering City Schools Music Coordinator Michael Berning wasn’t happy with the confusion the state created. “The state messed with us in May and put out all this information about how we were going to get extra money,” he said. “That’s why we took it off the ballot. Some other districts didn’t. Centerville kept their levy on the May ballot and it failed. But now we have to pass it in November, and only having one shot is a little scary.”
School districts collect tax money from January to January, so if the voters say “no” on Nov. 5, the district will have to try again next spring. But that delay would mean the district would be without the extra funds until at least 2015.
Funds from an operating levy are used to cover the cost of day-to-day upkeep of the school, such as utility bills, to buy textbooks and classroom supplies, and to pay the staff. This year, operating funds also will cover the cost of new security measures, such as surveillance cameras and controlled-access entrances, which will in total cost more than $1 million, Schoenlein said.
The superintendent said that if the levy fails, no programs will be cut immediately. “But we’d certainly have to review programs,” he said. “Some programs might be scaled back or eliminated. You don’t want to develop a losing momentum. You want to keep winning, just like in sports. You need a winning mentality. People can just as easily get used to losing.”
Music, sports and more
Several Fairmont staff members expressed concern over what might be at stake if the levy doesn’t pass. Berning is understandably focused on what the consequences of a levy defeat would mean for music opportunities.
“The last time we failed a levy in May, they made the public aware that if we didn’t pass it in November, there would be cuts to music and sports,” Berning said. “They haven’t done that this year because we have a one-shot deal. People don’t like being threatened, but it is a little scary where the cuts would have to come from if we had to do that.”
Fairmont has a well-respected music staff and a full music program, including band, orchestra and choir. This is quite the rarity in public schools, Berning said. “We’re lucky to have a full staff of music and art. A lot of schools have already cut those types of programs.”
Athletic Director Chris Weaver also wants to see Kettering voters pass the levy, not only because of sports but because of the entire package the school district offers. “What happens is if you don’t pass levies, your participation fees go up, your staffing goes down, and your class sizes increase,” Weaver said. “You have fewer teachers teaching more kids, and the education and additional opportunities for kids to take extra classes decrease.”
Fairmont junior Mark Liston believes class size is very important to learning. He participates in several International Baccalaureate classes, such as IB Music and IB Theory of Knowledge. He appreciates the hands-on approach offered by the classes, and he worries that IB classes would be cut if the levy fails. “They’re nice, and they require hard work,” said Liston, “but I don’t really need IB Music or Theory of Knowledge to graduate and get into college. If class sizes increase, the classes would feel less personal between you and the teachers.”
But Weaver says he’s optimistic that Kettering won’t go down that path. “I think we have a great story to tell. Kettering is a very, very special and unique school district,” said Weaver, who came to Fairmont two years ago. “Even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen that the teachers care about the kids and the district works really hard to manage its finances, all the while trying to attract the best quality teachers to support the education programs that we have.”
The athletic director said he hopes voters will recognize that learning is taking place both in the classroom and on the field. “I believe that the football field, the basketball court, and the swimming pool are all outside classrooms, and it’s an extension of the classroom.”
“Student performances are booming”
English teacher Rebecca Templeton-Owens feels Fairmont teachers work hard to support their students and give them the education they deserve. “If you drive by any parking lot or building after school hours, teachers are hard at work,” she said. “We do the best we can for the kids we have. We love the City of Kettering and we are dedicated to giving our kids the best education possible.
Liston believes the opportunities the high school offers motivates students to do well. “Extracurriculars are part of the learning process, and they give kids something to look forward to and actually strive towards keeping good grades so that they can participate in those things,” he said. Liston is well aware of the influence these programs can have on students; he’s a member of the Marching Firebirds in the fall and a swimmer on Fairmont’s swimming team in the winter.
Liston hopes the community will support the district so that Fairmont can continue to provide numerous opportunities. “It would subtract from high school and make it less worthwhile and people wouldn’t try as hard,” said Liston. “I would still come to high school even if music, sports and academics were cut, but it would be more of a half-to than a want-to.”
“Hoping for the best”
Teachers such as Templeton-Owens are cautiously confident that the levy will pass. Despite furloughs, a government shutdown, and slow economic growth, she knows that the district has shown itself to be responsible with its money. “I am optimistic because, as our Report Card has shown, we’ve done an excellent job,” said Templeton-Owens. “I think our community will see that and respect that and pass the levy, so that we can keep the services that our community has come to expect.”
Schoenlein will be watching the returns closely on Nov. 5, but he’s also upbeat about the district’s chances. “We’ve done a good job as a district,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”