Ballot Items: Pleasing Results for Some
Election results from states and localities with education measures on the ballot this month indicated stronger voter support for schools than was expected, but continuing problems with local funding, according to state and national observers.
In Ohio, the Department of Education reported that 56.5 percent of districts voting on school issues approved them, the highest percentage in 12 years. Of 184 bond issues and tax levies, 104 passed.
Robert Bowers, Ohio's assistant superintendent for public instruction, attributed the high approval rate to "the public's perception of the improved education system" in the state. "It also reflects improved economic conditions in Ohio," he said.
In Oregon, where local levies are a perennial problem, 17 of 28 school-district levy requests won approval from voters. The victories, however, came in a year when a record number of the state's school districts faced the possibility of being forced to close for lack of operating funds.
Nationwide, school systems "came out pretty well this year," said Kristin Blair, an assistant to the editor of the Initiative and Referendum Report, a monthly newsletter on state and local ballot issues published by the Institute for Government and Politics in Washington. "Voters were in a good mood and they okayed most bond issues," she said.
Key tax-levy failures in some districts, however, led to plans for emergency elections and budget cuts. Oregon's 11 levy failures came a month after voters statewide rejected a 5-percent sales tax that would have provided some $700 million annually for the public schools.
The sales-tax defeat may have increased voter opposition to levies in those districts most in need of them, suggested Laurence Austin, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Education. "The feeling that we haven't gotten a statewide solution yet may have forced the issue locally," he suggested.
Five of the districts whose levies were defeated may have to close by Jan. 1, Mr. Austin said; those districts have scheduled special levy elections for December.
In Ohio, about six school districts whose voters opposed operating levies will have to borrow money from the state's Emergency School Advancement Fund, Mr. Bowers said.
New York State voters approved by a narrow margin a proposal to re-peal constitutional limitations on the amount of tax revenue that can be raised through real-estate taxes for school districts that are either "coterminous with, or partly or wholly within," a city with fewer than 125,000 inhabitants.
The proposal affects about 50 out of the state's 732 districts. Many of these 50 were "unenthusiastic" about the plan because it means they will have to raise school funds through local tax levies, said Christopher Carpenter, a spokesman for the state education department.
For the last few years, he noted, some of those districts had received special appropriations from the legislature to balance their budgets.
Local Plans Turned Down
In local school-related proposals:
A $155-million St. Louis school-bond issue that included funds for court-ordered desegregation efforts failed to win the necessary two-thirds approval.
Voters in San Marino, Calif., failed to approve a proposal for a four-year, special land tax to restore programs eliminated by Proposition 13, the property-tax reduction referendum approved by California voters in 1978. The San Marino measure needed a two-thirds majority; 60.5 percent of voters approved it. The proposal may appear again on the district's April ballot.