Great Oaks President and CEO Harry Snyder met with Highland County Commissioners during their Wednesday meeting to not only urge passage of a 2.7-mill operating levy, but to also change its status from renewal to continuing.
“Every 10 years since 1988, we’ve had this renewal levy before the people,” Snyder told commissioners. “And we’d like to make our case that we’ve used the taxpayers dollars wisely over those years, but the difference this time is we not only want to renew the levy, but also make it continuous.”
Snyder said that the Great Oaks career campus system, which Laurel Oaks in Wilmington is part of, has demonstrated over the past three decades that it can live within its $64 million annual budget and yet has been able to complete building renovations, hire and retain staff, and update equipment without additional funding.
He emphasized that the levy is not an increase, but simply a renewal at the current level of 2.7 mills, which was originally approved in 1988 and subsequently renewed in 1998 and 2008.
“There are 36 school districts that have joined together, which makes us a joint vocational school system to offer career and technical education,” Snyder said. “Last year we prepared over 16,000 secondary students in our high school satellite programs and about 2,700 on our four campuses.”
Snyder added that about 18,000 adults use the Great Oaks facilities for recertification training and continuing education.
“Most of our adults come from public safety services,” he said, “which involves being recertified during a quick weekend or a three-day training program, and of course, we have the adults who come to us for continuing education and personal enrichment courses.”
Great Oaks’ approach to education, Snyder said, is guided by more than 1,400 business advisory members that recommend to a 35-member board of directors what programs should be offered to support the different career paths offered to students.
Currently, high school students can choose from 31 career fields ranging from health care to public safety services, robotics, aviation maintenance and more, with the opportunity to earn college credit and professional licensure.
“We know that 93 percent of our students are continuing their education, have found employment or are going into the military, or a combination of both,” Snyder said. “Something unique that we do is a one-year follow-up on our students to gauge their success in their learning cycle and through that, we’ve found that 95 percent of our employers said that they would employ our students again.”
In asking for renewal of the levy, Snyder pointed out the positive economic impact that the Great Oaks system has on the local and regional economy.
“That 2.7-mill levy brings in about $42 million from the local taxpayer,” he said, “and for every dollar that comes in from what that levy generates, we return $3 to the local economy in terms of hiring teachers, building maintenance and food services, and other things that trickle down into the economy.”
According to a University of Cincinnati economic center study that was released back in January, the yearly economic return to Southwest Ohio from the Great Oaks system totals more than $115 million.
“In terms of local taxes, and I’m glad Bill Fawley is here to keep me honest,” Snyder said. “About 66 percent of our budget comes from the levy, while the state contributes 30 percent and the remaining 4 percent comes from other sources.”
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley told the Times-Gazette that the typical agricultural or residential property owner could expect to pay $63.93 annually per $100,000 of property valuation, while that figure would be $85.82 annually per $100,000 valuation for commercial and industrial entities.
“So our challenge is the 2.7-mill levy is our only source of local funding,” Snyder said. “And that’s why myself and our community relations director, Jon Weidlich, have been visiting with the various county commissioners in the counties served by Great Oaks to urge the levy be renewed for a continuing period.”
Voters will make their decision on the Great Oaks levy during the Nov. 6 general election.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.