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Just emergency levy to be on March ballot

By Kim Garee

HEBRON – Lakewood school board members barely had time to digest the outcome of two recent levy failures before they were forced to decide both whether to get back on the ballot in March and in what capacity.

The board approved a resolution of necessity at its Nov. 14 business meeting to pursue just one issue in March: a five-year emergency levy renewal.

The issue is basically the same emergency levy renewal, first approved in 2003, that was turned down by voters 2,095 to 1,740 on Nov. 6. The 6 mill levy would allow Lakewood to continue to collect just over $2 million annually with no increased taxes to residents.

It appeared – and will appear again – on the ballot with the language “plus increase” attached. That increase refers to a $294,613 tangible personal property reimbursement payment from the state, not increased taxes to the Lakewood community.

Voters also solidly defeated a proposed one-percent earned income tax that would have raised an additional $2.176 million to help meet operating costs in coming years. Board members opted last Wednesday not to pursue that issue again in March, but not without considerable debate.

Members Tim Spitzer, Joe Bowman and Judy White said they felt voters clearly stated they don’t want an increase in taxes at this time. At a Nov. 11 workshop meeting, members unofficiallydecided to seek renewal of the existing levy, then carefully plan for and make adjustments in theyears ahead.

Board member Forrest Cooperrider abstained from voting on the renewal resolution, after saying he believes the board should ask for an increase in the emergency levy. “I think it’s a waste to go after half of what we need,” he stated, “unless we have a plan for getting by on that.”

Bowman agreed a plan of that sort is just what they need in place, but he feels they should take “small steps to get a positive response from voters.” Bowman said he believes approval of the renewal would at least meet needs in the immediate future.

White said she would agree with Cooperrider “in better economic times,” but felt the board should focus on the emergency renewal in March.

“Funding with something is better than funding with nothing,” she said.

Spitzer said he doesn’t think voters understood that turning down both issues this November effectively “took 20 percent of our budget down.”

Superintendent Jay Gault said dealing with a $2 million or $4 million loss is, either way, significantand makes cutting expenses more than “a paring knife job.” He noted that $4 million represents 68 staff members and other programs, too. “Passing the renewal in March would buy us time to plan on what we’re going to do without that other $2 million. I can’t give you a plan tonight on how we’re going to attack that,” Gault told the board.

With the first of the March levy resolutions approved, the board will have to approve one more resolution in December to actually put the emergency renewal issue on the ballot.

In other business Wednesday night, Lakewood seniors could have the option of taking college-level courses taught in their own high school by COTC professors next year. Board members gave the okay for high school administrators to pursue a one-year contract with COTC to offer high-interest college courses next year.

Guidance Counselors Phil Sikorski and Valerie Kieffer said Lakewood must simply provide classroom space, while COTC will provide instructors and materials, allowing qualified Lakewood students to earn free college credit. Sikorski said Lakewood would lose just two-ninths of state foundation funding by bringing the program in – an amount Treasurer Glenna Plaisted estimates at $1,400.

High School Principal Larry Bevard said his team of administrators is also researching senior early release, which could allow some students to leave school early for work obligations, as well as academic standards for participation in clubs and activities. He told the board to expect an update on both subjects in January.

The board also:

  • Approved contracts with Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield effective Dec. 1, 2007 for a year, with the same coverage as last year’s plan at a 15 % increase in premium; and with Delta Dental for group dental insurance, same coverage as last year, with a 2.2% decrease in premium.

  • Approved the donation of $22,726 in playground equipment from the Hebron Elementary PTO.

  • Heard several updates from Pupil Services Director Arnie Ettenhofer, including a report that Lakewood’s third grade reading test results are improving dramatically. He said the district has made great strides in reading curriculum over the past four years that have taken the results from a 46% passing rate in 2003 to a 62% passing rate this year.

    The board’s next regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. on
    Wednesday, Dec. 12 in the high school library.

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