Levy discussions dominate Lakewood meeting
HEBRON – Lakewood School Board members want to be sure voters have all the facts about their proposed 9.9 mill levy before the Nov. 2 election.
Board members were greeted by a roomful of people, both for and against the levy, at their first board meeting since voters again rejected the additional levy by a 1,754 to 1,672 vote at the Aug. 3 special election. The same levy lost by a 2,380 to 2,170 margin in May.
The Aug. 3 loss was the third in a row as the district seeks to replace revenue lost after the state phased out the personal property tax assessed primarily on businesses. The first attempt was for an additional 8.9 mill levy that voters trounced in November 2009 by a 2,971 to 1,798 tally. A 9.9 mill levy will appear on the upcoming November ballot.
“I know there are still misnomers out there, misinformation,” said school board President Joe Bowman, Jr. He said a public forum to discuss the levy is being considered. The district will distribute informational packets of roughly ten pages with facts about the district’s tax situation and how it compares to surrounding school districts, its state testing score history, and other information.
For example, Bowman said Lakewood is locked into the amount of revenue it collects from the state, which is less than it should be until 2012, assuming the state still has adequate funding for its schools by then. He said any informational material would also address staffing. “We’re understaffed across the board,” he said. Bowman added that the school district has not created any new positions for five years. Anyone hired since then was only filling a vacancy.
“This district’s been known to have a tough time passing levies,” said Bowman. He said the district has only passed five since 1978. If the November attempt fails, “our reductions will come out of staff and personnel,” but he couldn’t be specific. In fact, he said he couldn’t have anything “set in stone” until July 10, 2011, which is the deadline for submitting resignations. “Have we discussed it? Absolutely!” said Bowman, but there’s no way of knowing right now exactly what personnel would be cut should the levy fail in November.
When the board opened the floor to citizens’ comments, district resident Mary Miller asked why budget items on the agenda were unanimously approved in succession without any discussion. “Why don’t you say ‘No,’” she asked. Miller said one of the provisions approved contracts for several coaches at once, which was approved without discussion. “Why lump all the coaches into one motion,” she asked.
Bowman said board members receive meeting agendas about a week in advance of the monthly board meetings and most of the agenda items have already been discussed.
Miller asked if board members had considered options for funding co-curricular activities should the levy fail. Bowman said existing co-curricular activities are funded through this coming school year and would not be cancelled. However, the future of co-curricular activities beyond this year has not been discussed, although the board and the administration are open to suggestions about how to operate them should the levy fail.
Levy committee member Holly Graham said co-curricular activities like sports and drama only account for 1.1 percent of the district’s budget. The Boosters organization fully funds drama, she said. “Dropping the extras won’t really help,” she said.
“People don’t understand how much $4 million will cut,” said Drama Director Martha Fickle, adding that it’s 22 percent of the entire district budget. “People need to see what the impact will be.”
“People voting ‘no’ still think it’ll be business as usual or they can move,” said Bowman. He predicted people would have a harder time selling their homes if the levy fails.
“An income tax is the answer,” said resident Zack Klein. “People who aren’t making as much won’t be charged as much. Step back and consider a different avenue.”
“Property tax becomes the burden of the schools,” said Bowman. “We pay less taxes than anyone else in the county.” He said the district isn’t receiving revenue from the Hebron Industrial Park like it was. Bowman said a three to four percent income tax would be necessary. “People said ‘not me’ when (an income tax) was on the ballot before,” he said.
Resident Pat Hartley sympathized with the district’s financial plight, but said hers and others’ households face the same issue. They just can’t afford more taxes. “What are we supposed to pay for it with,” she asked. “It’s not that we don’t want the schools to do better,” but Hartley said the recession cost her household 75 percent of its income.
In other district news:
• Director of Pupil Services Arnie Ettenhofer reported on the district’s academic progress on state tests. He said when the state report cards were introduced in 1998, Lakewood’s performance was poor – meeting only seven of 18 testing standards for an “academic watch” rating. By 2001, the district met 19 of 27 standards and was named Ohio’s most improved district. District academic goals have focused upon reading and math ever since. Lakewood achieved an excellent rating for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. Test results for the 2009-2010 year will be released Aug. 27.
Ettenhofer said the district’s performance index improved significantly from 2007, from a score of 94.7 to 96.3, and the district’s graduation rate increased from 87.6 percent for the 2005-2006 school year, to 98.8 percent for 2008 to 2009 school year.
• Some students will notice changes to their bus routes since the district slashed $1 million from its budget. Transportation Supervisor Mike Whittington said several drivers were laid off and several buses will be parked to save money. As a result, only two buses will go to Buckeye Lake, but each will make two trips. Also, buses will no longer make doorto door stops on many routes and won’t go into some subdivisions. Instead, students will wait for their buses at “safe consolidated” bus stops. Whittington said letters were sent to parents, notifying them of the changes and bus routes are posted in school building windows.