‘We’re going to finish it in August’
HEBRON – Lakewood School Board President Joe Bowman, Jr. is ready to wrap up a 9.9 mill levy’s on-going saga. “We’re going to finish it in August,” he said during the school board’s May 12 meeting.
The high school library was packed with residents wondering what’s going to happen following the levy’s defeat in the May primary, where it narrowly lost 2,352-2,136, according to unofficial results. Board members decided to place the levy on an August special election in the hope a third time’s a charm; an 8.9 mills levy failed in last November, but by a significantly wider margin.
Bowman said if the August attempt fails, it’ll be “business as usual” until Jan. 1, 2011, but then the district will be forced to cut $4.4 million from its budget. However, the district will begin exploring options of where to make cuts immediately, should the levy fail. Bowman promised that process would have plenty of public input, similar to a process where $1 million was cut from budget. “We’ll never pull the trigger without the buy-in from you guys,” Bowman told the audience.
Bowman said it would cost roughly $16,000 to place the levy on the August special election ballot, but an anonymous donor pledged $10,000 toward the cause.
Real estate agent Amy Ghiloni warned the crowd that failed school levies diminish property values within the district, which affects everyone. “Buyers don’t want to buy in a school district that doesn’t support the schools,” she said.
Ghiloni said that in her experience working with home buyers, the most desirable communities continually support their schools. “That translates into higher home values,” she said. “A community that continually fails school levies will see a struggling district with lower property values and homes will linger on the market because potential buyers view that as a mark against that community.”
Bowman, a Lakewood graduate, said the levy campaign has been a “frustrating journey.” He said only four Lakewood levies, including a bond issue, have passed since 1979 – the lowest in Licking County. He said the district only collects $4.6 million from the state, again, quite low, and the state may slash another $1 million from the budget in 2012. “We have to quit looking at our community as sub-standard,” said Bowman.
Superintendent Jay Gault said that the school district would return to the ballot in November should the August attempt fail. In fact, even if it fails in November and $4.4 million are cut from the budget, the district will still eventually return to the ballot. “The state doesn’t give us enough to operate,” even on a “bare bones” level, he said. “You still have to keep trying, even after the cuts.”
Gault said the majority of cuts would be personnel, should the levy fail. He said people talk about cutting programs, but the only reason programs would be cut is because there’s no one available to run them.
Gault said he was surprised the absentee votes defeated the May vote, because absentee voters generally vote in favor of levies. He said there is no sure method he knows to try to convince absentee voters to vote in favor in August. “We’re not here to convince people to vote,” said Gault. He said all the district can do is make sure absentee voters, or any voters for that matter, have all the information they need to make an educated vote. How people vote at that point is up to them.
In other school board news:
• Gault believes there are some public misconceptions regarding how Lakewood teachers are paid, and how much they earn.
“There’s no guesswork involved,” he said. He said all district employees are paid according to a salary schedule except for the superintendent and the treasurer, whose salaries the school board determines. The schedule compares education degrees with years experience.
For example, a teacher with bachelor’s degree and five years experience would earn X amount per year according to the chart, period. Gault said there’s no negotiation with individual teachers. Any step increases are worked into a contract through the teacher’s union. He said Lakewood teachers’ pay rate is fifth highest in Licking County, behind Granville, Newark, Heath, and Southwest Licking schools.
“There’s no hiding anything; we’re a public entity,” said Gault, who encouraged anyone with questions about Lakewood employees’ pay to ask. All related information is public and available to everyone, he said.