If you move to Shaker Heights, you know what you’re getting.
You know that the city has quality schools, but that quality comes with a cost. You know that it’s a “residential community,” a town without enough businesses to handle most of the tax burden, and it requires higher property taxes to maintain strong schools. But you also know that, as a teacher paraphrased former Superintendent Mark Freeman at a board of education meeting earlier this year, “You get what you pay for.”
And sometimes you need to pay a little more.
Only 10 percent of Shaker’s tax revenue comes from local businesses; compare that to 30 percent in Solon and 50 percent in Beachwood. In other words, because we don’t have a mall to tax, homeowners must foot most of the bill for quality schools. It can be a big bill. Homeowners in this school district pay the highest property tax rate in Ohio, a tax rate that will likely surpass four percent if this levy passes. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay $483 more each year, bringing his or her total to $8,076 per annum. We don’t love this approach, but unless there are plans to build a mall in the Fernway neighborhood, this is the best way to maintain our schools.
“We are all homeowners, too,” Board of Education member Annette Tucker Sutherland said. “We are very aware” of the tax burden placed on Shaker residents.
In addition, Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., has emphasized cost efficiency much more than his predecessor. When the board revealed the levy would be 6.9 mills — the last four had all exceeded nine — teachers gave board members and Hutchings an ear full.
“A 6.9-mill levy is not enough,” one teacher said. “You cannot create great success on the cheap.”
Another said, “We cannot let a fear of millage prevent us [from] providing the world-class education Shaker is renowned for.”
We believe some taxpayers would disagree that the district is funded “on the cheap.”
This levy is a necessary evil, but its more modest cost reflects a healthy reconsideration of Shaker homeowners’ role in funding the schools. The district is asking for less, and they’ve said they won’t ask again for four years. Over that time, the district is also cutting costs elsewhere, $1 million each year for the next five years. The district’s belt-tightening may lead to changes in the classroom — teachers recently learned that in 2015-16 and beyond non-IB Diploma Programme classes must exceed 15 students or be cut — but if taxpayers can make sacrifices for the schools, we believe the schools can make sacrifices for the taxpayers.
These sacrifices, though, cannot rob students of a quality education. But we trust the district will provide no less.
This story will appear on page 11 of the April 25 issue of The Shakerite.