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District back to drawing board on November levy

MILLERSPORT – A 2-2 vote Monday night scuttled plans to place a five year, 7.0 mill levy for the Walnut Township Local School District on the November ballot.

“I can’t tell you where we’re going from here,” said Treasurer Kirk Grandy. “I still think something will be on (the ballot) in November.”

School board members Vince Popo and Carol King opposed placing a 7.0-mill, five-year levy on the ballot while members Tom Cumbow and FAye Whitaker supported it. Board member Karen Keller was absent.

Board members are struggling with deficit spending and a projected $433,270 deficit for the next fiscal year which begins July 1. That deficit grows to $1,491,599 in fiscal year 2016 and $2,673,889 in fiscal year 2017.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected an additional 6.9 mill levy on May 6.

The latest levy proposal would raise $1 million per year for the district and included the renewal of an existing 2.1-mill emergency tax levy most recently approved by voters in November 2009. The emergency levy brings in $258,000 a year. Grandy explained that with the emergency levy included, the 7.0-mill levy ia only a 4.9-mill increase over what district residents have been paying.

Board members have until Aug. 6 to certify a levy with the Fairfield County Board of Elections for the November ballot, and board members will likely schedule at least one special meeting before that time.

Popo said the board hasn’t properly defined the consequences if voters don’t approve additional money for the dsitrict. The board is being more “reactive,” than proactively promoting the district to voters. He said when the Groveport School District was pushing a levy, it was very specific about what would be cut should the levy fail and Walnut Township Schools should do the same.

Popo said the district could help itself by opening its school buildings more to the public. “The library and computer lab should be open to the community,” he said. “We need to promote ourselves, but I don’t think we do that very well. We just react; our whole community is like that.”

Whitaker asked what the plan is, following the tie board vote that killed the current proposal. “We need to spell out what will happen if the levy fails,” said Popo. “We weren’t specific about what we were going to do.”

Grandy said the district has deficit spent for the last three years. Even if voters approve t a levy to raise $1 million, cost cuts will still be necessary and the district would need to return to the ballot in a couple years. Grandy said the district is at a great disadvantage because it’s nearly 80 percent locally funded; the state only provides about 20 percent of the district’s revenue. He said Walnut Township district residents can either approve additional levies and keep the district solvent, or reject levies and allow another district to absorb Walnut Township Schools, in which case district residents would pay even higher taxes.

Some board members fear that a rejection of the proposed 7.0 mill levy in November would leave the district in even a bigger hole due to the loss of the $258,000 a year from the long-standing emergency levy. However, placing two levies on the November ballot could be risky. “Having two on is very difficult,” said Superintendent Randy Cotner. If nothing passes in November, “There’ll be some deep cuts,” he said. “It’ll be up to this community and what they want their schools to be.”

Whatever ends up on the November ballot, Cotner said he’d work hard to see it approved and do his best so Walnut Township isn’t vulnerable to another district absorbing it. “I’ll fight to keep it alive,” he said.

In other district news:

• Cotner said since the district decided not to replace a bus driver who voluntarily left his position, bus route scheduling will be very tight next school year. He said the remaining drivers would no longer be able to do “custom drop-offs on the spot,” meaning students who wish to be dropped off somewhere else than their usual stop would need to schedule it ahead of time. “Some of the flexibility will go away,” he said. In the past, students could tell the bus driver he or she wanted to be dropped off at an alternative site and the bus driver could radio in for approval. That will no longer be possible. Any alternative drop-offs must be scheduled earlier.

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