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Our Community Our Schools $1,000 Scholarship Winner

Trey Reed
Trey Reed

Real Change Wilmington is excited to recognize WHS Senior Trey Reed as our essay contest winner of the ‘Our Community Our Schools $1,000 Student Scholarship’. Trey has been accepted to Bowling Green declaring a Music Performance major.

Trey’s essay addressed our schools’ eventual need to pass our levy, and our community’s resistance to it. Even though WCS decided to postpone our levy for a few years after receiving additional property tax funds, Real Change Wilmington decided to still honor the work Trey has done to interview community members and propose a positive, constructive, and lighthearted way forward.

Left to Right: Tiara Harris, Trey Reed, Dustin Pearce, Jessica Manzo
Left to Right: Tiara Harris, Trey Reed, Dustin Pearce, Jessica Manzo

Essay by Trey Reed:

If something has been strong in Wilmington, Ohio, over the last decade, it’s our sense of community. After DHL, a name familiar to any Wilmington resident, decided to close our distribution hub in 2008, we were left economically devastated. Over 7,000 jobs were lost, according to the New York Times. But, with this massive power vacuum, we were able to learn how to turn to each other. After finally reaching an economic turn around, Wilmington again has a bustling downtown, emerging local businesses, and, most importantly, a feeling of empowerment in our small town. Regardless, there is one point of tension that Wilmington struggles to come together on: the Wilmington City Schools Levy.

The WCS levy would promise to bring around 5 million dollars to the school districts’ way annually and an equal deficit should it continue to be denied. The tradeoff? A concerning 1% tax on income for all Wilmingtonians. As a result, the levy has been denied four consecutive times by voters. Despite this dominance, each time the levy has come to ballot the margins have been exceedingly tight!

So what has our usually tight-knit populous at such a crossroads? Jason Vaughn, owner of the thriving local business, TinCap Hard Cider, and a supporter of the levy, believes the issue stems from something very broad. As he puts it, “I don’t think it’s so much the community or the school system they [those who voted against the levy] are voting against at this point. It’s the hardships nationwide that they are feeling, that everybody’s feeling.”

With inflation still at an all-time high and several international conflicts affecting the U.S. market, many feel as though the timing is wrong for them to be able to support WCS. The issue of the levy does not lie strictly within the streets of Wilmington, but across the nation. To prevail through these issues, the solution will be to continue to unify, not highlight our disagreements.

To the average voter, they may not see why the school has such a high demand for this tariff. In a short interview I had with Matt Spradlin, the dean of students at Wilmington High School, he explained that while the district is not in financial disarray, there are holes that a passed levy would help close. On top of this, he adds, “There are so many laws around school financing and school funding... it is difficult for some people to have that knowledge about school funding unless they have taken serious time to look into it or if they are someone associated with the school district.” An example he shares is how the district is required to provide transportation to their students, and as a result, there is an untappable budget that includes repairs, fuel, and staffing. So, when a failure of the levy may induce budget cuts, this money has to come from elsewhere, like extracurriculars or salaries. For the school district, the levy is a call to arms, not to rally against the city, but a call to what they are best at: education. To move forward, I believe the school district should make an effort to educate the community not only about the benefits of the levy but also about the maneuvering required in its absence.

On the contrary, there are steps that voters against the levy need to take. As I discussed with another WHS teacher and former WHS student, Michele Hildebrandt, if people are willing to vote against our schools, then ignorance cannot be an option for them. Early in our conversation, she said, “I think a lot of communities have a skewed view of what the schools do for the community as a whole. I think people in the community hear things, and a lot of the time, the things they hear aren’t quite right. So they choose not to support [the levy] because of these random things.”

Oftentimes, the same population of Wilmington that has never gone to a football game, theater production, or band concert are the same people that automatically vote no when they see the levy on the ballot. If community members spend more time appreciating what WHS students put out for the community, they will achieve perspective on the workings of the school district.

Separately from the oppositional stance many view this issue from, it is just as important that we take this opportunity to learn to work together. Bruce Saunders, the president of Rails to Trails and a former president of the Wilmington Historical Society, said, “A lot of people come to the central office [of WCS] and don’t get listened to...” Controversial topics, like the levy, often stay controversial because of a lack of communication between parties. If WCS is more open to comments from the community as well as being more open about the internal complications at the school, a consensus can emerge given the community does the same.

The table is set for Wilmington, and the people are hungry. It is time for people to show up for dinner. People need to make their voices heard and be open to hearing the opinions of others. But, above all, we need to realize we are not two separate parties. Instead, we are one, and we need equilibrium. We are Wilmington.”



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