2010-07-24 / Editorials & Letters

Guest column: Why I support the Lakewood levy

By Judy White, Vice President Lakewood Local School Board

Lakewood Local School District is facing an impending financial catastrophe not unlike the time the state closed the school’s doors in January 1969.

Community residents at a recent Lakewood school board meeting reported this historical fact. You may be as shocked as I was to hear that. Jay Cault was in second grade. Bill Gulick was in eighth grade. Mrs. Bowman was on school board. We aren’t there yet, but we are approaching the same juncture if our levy isn’t passed this year.

As a board, we have looked at all presented options for scaling back our expenditures while keeping student achievement in the forefront. We invited community participation in the ‘target’ process to pinpoint areas where the community thought cuts could be made. As a board, we took that input and cut $1.2 million from next year’s budget which will not be coming back even after the levy is passed. Let’s not overlook the fact our students have achieved an excellent rating for the district. We want (and you should want) to keep that rating.

Should the levy not pass and $4.4 million more is cut by this board to the state minimum standards for public education, these educators, their assistants, and their programs that serve our children will be gone: Ms. Fickle, Ms. Houck, Mr. Grubb, Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Schimberg, Mr. Will, Coach Thorp, Coach Nadolson, Coach Sponholtz, and many more good people will have no sports to coach. All extracurricular activities will be canceled.

I have heard the argument ‘Who decided we should pay for extracurriculars for everyone’s kids? I don’t ask you to pay for my kids’ activities.’

Extracurricular activities broaden the horizons of young people so they can succeed in life (and higher education) dealing with all kinds of people (large group/small group) in a myriad of situations and circumstances. Public education makes those choices available at a minimal cost to everyone.

The Constitution of the State of Ohio guarantees every child a free and adequate education. Society dictates that extracurriculars are a given in public education. Extracurricular activities account for approximately only 1% of the district budget. I want all students to have the same opportunities and more than I did in school. My parents and I (all my family really) benefited from extracurricular activities in the public schools we attended. Extracurricular activities have been around for a long time. I do not want to do without them and I welcome your children to participate in as many as they choose.

No one likes taxes. I don’t like taxes. I have heard the argument ‘I am a business man and I love Lakewood too, but I have to think with my wallet, not my heart.’ Try to get ANY loan if you live in a district tagged as “economically disadvantaged.” That’s the label financial institutions use to identify an area that doesn’t have a financially solid school district. Ask any resident from Southwest City District (Grove City) who has lived it. That district went to state minimums and it hurt their property values as well as personal finances. Our district has been encouraged to avoid going to state minimum standards at all costs.

I have heard the argument ‘You pay that football coach too much.’ Yes we do, if the only thing he does is coach football and teach strength training. Coach Sponholtz teaches special education, travels with the wrestling team, coaches football, teaches health/strength training, serves on the community levy committee, is respected by fellow educators, and has been in education for 30 plus years. You get what you pay for. He’s paid a lot; we expect a lot.

I have heard the argument ‘It’s nothing but good ole’ boys out there. I don’t like the way they do things. Who’s my rep (school board member)?’ I am. All board members are elected as ‘at-large’ representatives. All of us are your representatives. If you would care to run for a seat on the Lakewood Local School Board, I applaud you.

In the mean time, we who are currently serving are looking after this community’s $20 million asset. We budget; we weigh benefit versus cost; we set policy; we review policy; we take the recommendations of the superintendent and treasurer (both of whom we hire and evaluate yearly) to set the highest of standards that reflect the same high standards the community desires and deserves. I expect the best from all of us, all of us associated with Lakewood. you should expect the best and give your best too.

I have heard the argument ‘Nobody cares about the school. Kids don’t care what’s offered or how well they do in school.’ Trust me on this – someday, for better or worse, they will care. If you are not satisfied with the choices you made regarding your education, then decide now to make better choices in general. If you support the schools with your tax dollars, you won’t lose anything. You gain everything because your friends and neighbors become a strong, vibrant community base where others want to live, work, raise families, run businesses, go to church, recreate, and invest. Here is your chance to care about school and serve your community. You won’t be sorry.

I have heard the argument ‘You pay Jay Gault way too much money.’ Do we? Well, OK maybe his wages are far more than mine. But in the end it’s all in perception. He, as superintendent with board approval, administrates a $20 million per year district budget. I surely wouldn’t expect someone to take the job for $15 an hour.

Look at all the similar districts. His pay and benefits fall in the upper mid-range for districts our size. His responsibilities are enormous; state and federal regulation compliance, two labor unions’ issues, student safety, student achievement, curriculum development, administrative staffing issues, community obligations, etc. Much rides on his licensure. Someone has to stand at the top of any organization and drive that organization forward. He is a Lakewood grad with deep roots in the community who went beyond Lakewood High School to excel in the field of education. Trust that he is here to do his best for his hometown. And frankly, the guy at the top is always an easy target in difficult times. He’s either the ‘hero or the goat.’

I have heard the argument, ‘What do we need Arnie for?’ Arnie Ettenhofer, Director of Pupil Services, brings in roughly $2 million a year to the district through goods and services. He’s the ‘nuts and bolts’ go-to guy. Arnie and Mary Jennie, Food Service Manager, studied state and federal guidelines regarding our food service and made recommendations that have made it possible for Lakewood schools to offer free breakfast to all. The bonus to the district is that our food service no longer runs in the red. Arnie and Mike Wittington, Transportation Supervisor, study transportation issues to increase saving to the district. Arnie is responsible for the large studies in the district to develop data that often times have a positive result on our bottom line. I support all of his efforts on behalf of Lakewood.

I have heard the argument, ‘I worked for 35 years to build my $250,000 dream house in this district, am now on a fixed income, and you would to penalize me by raising my taxes.’ Our school district’s funding breaks down to this: 6.91% comes from federal revenue, 38.54% from state revenue, and 54.55% from local revenues. Our district spends $1,258.57 less then the state average in expenditures per pupil per year. Our teachers’ salaries are 11% lower than the state average. The State of Ohio cut our current budget by 22% with the passage and implementation of House Bill 66. We lost all tangible personal property taxes on industry. Talk about penalties. The district has responded by cutting cuts. We cut, with community input, over $2 million from our budget that will not be coming back. It’s hard on all of us.

I have heard the argument, ‘An income tax is the only fair tax.’ I agree. We offered that option on the ballot in November 2007 as a 1% income tax. It would only have affected those persons receiving a W-2 and not affected retirement income. It was defeated soundly by 60 percent of those who voted.

I have heard the arguments, the same arguments over and over, for not voting for a levy. Here are the facts. Eight districts in the state have gone into “fiscal emergency,”

Ohio’s State Board of Education comes in and dictates what will and won’t be done in your district, imposing taxes they deem necessary to run the public school system. Can they do that? You bet. Read on-line about Little Miami School District’s woes.

We, the Lakewood community still have the opportunity to set our own course with the passage of this levy. We can avoid government intrusion in our day-to-day lives. Yes, passage of a ten-year levy means less money to spend on one thing or another and no, I don’t believe you’ll miss it. And as a community we all benefit from it.

From generation to generation Lakewood Schools unite us as a community. I ask you to vote for Lakewood schools. Lakewood: love it or lose it!

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