2010-05-08 / Front Page

Lakewood Lead Fades in the End

by Scott Rawdon and Charles Prince

HEBRON – Lakewood School District levy supporters who went to bed by 11 p.m. Tuesday night thought the district might be spared the specter of multi-million dollar budget cuts and the agony of another levy campaign.

With three precincts and apparently all absentee votes outstanding, “yes” votes for the district’s 9.9 mill additional levy held a narrow lead. But when the final results were posted around 11:30 p.m., the levy was defeated by an unofficial tally of 2352-2136, a margin of just 216 votes.

"I think part of it was the absentees," said Lakewood Director of Pupil Services Arnie Ettenhofer. He said precinct by precinct election results aren’t available yet. The Licking County Board of Elections adds absentee ballots to the total after the traditional ballots are counted so the absentees are included with the final count.

It would be up to the Lakewood Board of Education to decide whether to conduct a special election in August, wait for the November general election, or both, should it fail again on the August ballot.

Ahead of the vote, district officials said $4.4 million in cuts would be necessary should the levy fail. These include laying off 42 teachers, reducing class offerings to state minimums, cutting classroom time by one hour per day and eliminating all extracurricular activities including athletics, band, drama and after school clubs. Bus transportation to school would be cut back to state minimums, requiring students within two miles of their school to walk or be taken to school by family members.

Ettenhofer said the cuts would be implemented during the 2011-2012 school year, not immediately. "That's all up in the air," he said. If the levy passes before the end of the year, jobs and programs could be saved.

Superintendent Jay Gault agreed drastic cuts would be necessary should the levy fail again before the end of the year, assuming it returns to the ballot, but he's not sure if they would be made Jan. 1, 2011 or later in the year. "The board makes that decision," he said. "Something has to be passed in 2010."

The news wasn't all bad for the district, however. The margin of defeat narrowed considerably from the result last November for an 8.9 mill levy. This time 48 percent of the voters favored the levy compared to the 38 percent last November. There were 282 more Lakewood voters in November.

Ettenhofer credited the levy committee and people who support programs such as fine arts and athletics with the near victory. "There were many interested people who worked hard," he said.

"There was a little more sense of urgency this time," said Gault. He said the school board is holding a special session at 7:30 a.m. Monday, May 10, at the Lakewood District Office to discuss personnel issues and which direction the board plans to take following the levy defeat.

School Board President Joe Bowman, Jr. said the board would work this week on a course of action. “Even though the levy didn’t pass, I hate to use the term fail,” he said. “There was a huge improvement over the last attempt and a very large contingent was involved in making this happen and I do thank each and every one of them.” Bowman said the dist r ict’s com mu nication with the public has improved significantly, but more effort is needed. “There is still so much misinformation out there and people appear confused at times when it comes to public education,” he said. Bowman said “no-voters” won’t attend school board or levy committee meetings, which makes it difficult to clarify misinformation.

“I’m not going to be politically correct here,” said Bowman. “This district has a horrid history supporting education and a reputation to go along with it.” He said the culture within the district and its community must change. “Believe me when I say the district is absolutely starting to think outside the box,” said Bowman. “We have to become better in servicing our customers and we know it.” To do so properly the district can’t be at the bottom of funding. “I don’t believe ‘we couldn’t afford it,’” he said. “This is an excuse when it comes to the backbone of the community.”

With a few exceptions, Licking County voters weren’t in a generous mood. Voters approved two of three one-mill levies for library operations. The tally was 12,102 to 11,848 for the Licking County Library levy which will help fund the Buckeye Lake and Hebron branches. Granville School District voters by a nearly 2:1 margin approved a one mill levy for the independent Granville Library. The tally was 1,911 to 991. A one mill levy for the Homer Library was rejected by a 269-204 vote.

All three county-wide issues were defeated. Voters continue to refuse to support the Licking Park District, this time rejecting a 0.2 mill levy by a 19,895 to 17,932 vote. An additional 0.45 mill mental health levy met a similar fate by a 22,045 to 15,536 tally. C-Tec’s third try for an additional one mill levy was rejected by a 18,886 to 15,801 vote. The vocational school faces major staff and program cuts.

In other unofficial Licking County results:

• Incumbent Republican Licking County Commissioner Doug Smith turned back two challengers. Smith garnered 9,650 votes to 6,635 for Duane Flowers and 2,845 for Ed Martin. He will face Democrat Naomi Compton in the fall who ran unopposed.

• Licking County Treasurer Michael Smith will become county auditor next year. He won the Republican primary with 8,547 votes, over Doug Joseph with 5,951 votes and Keith Alexander 4,760. The Democrats didn’t field a candidate.

• Recently appointed Licking County Common Pleas Judge David Branstool will face Republican Robert Morris in November. Morris bested Brian Waltz 8,941 to 6,848 in the primary. Branstool ran unopposed.

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