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Levy will be on the August ballot if needed

MILLERSPORT – If Walnut Township Local School District voters don’t approve the additional seven mill property tax levy on the May 5 ballot, they will see it on the August 4 ballot.

The deadline to have issues on the August 4 ballot is May 6. Since it takes at least two separate meetings, school board members had to take the first step Monday night. Board members unanimously approved a resolution of necessity which sends the measure to the county auditor’s office which calculates the millage needed to raise an additional $1 million a year for the district’s operating expenses. “I anticipate another seven mill levy,” Treasurer Kirk Grandy told board members.

“It’s crazy we have to do it this way,” he explained. He assured board members that if voters approve the new levy on May 5, the issue can be taken off the August 4 ballot at no cost to the district.

Grandy did have a bit of good financial news in a year dominated by financial shortfalls and budget cuts. He said first half real estate taxes have been received. They total $3,134,382 compared to $3,201,84 for last year. Grandy was expecting a drop after voters failed to renew a $258,000 a year emergency levy. Last fall, Grandy projected income from real estate taxes would fall to $3,021,474, primarily due to the loss of the one of the two emergency levies.

At the same time, he projected $1,303,617 in revenue this school year from the district’s income tax. After the third of four income tax settlements a year, Grandy updated his forecast to $1,464,714. Real estate taxes came in $112,908 ahead of his projections and he expects the income tax to beat his original estimate by $161,097.

“We’re still poor and need money,” Grandy cautioned board members. He said the Department of Education had approved the district’s recovery plan. Thanks to the cuts made in December and earlier this year, the district will finish next school year with a tiny balance left in the general fund. That tiny balance will keep the district out of fiscal emergency next school year, Grandy explained. But unless voters approve an additional levy in the next year, the district must make even more cuts to turn the following year’s projected deficit into another tiny surplus to continue to avoid fiscal emergency status.

In other business Monday night, a junior class representative invited board members to the Junior Class Prom from 8 – 11 p.m. at Alley Park in Lancaster. The after prom at the high school runs from 11:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Maintenance/Transportation Supervisor Bill Yates said the district will have a major role in the Saturday, August 25, evacuation drill in Buckeye Lake Village. Two district buses, including its handicap bus, will be used to pick up Leisure Village trailer park residents. They will be bussed to the Millersport High School which has been a designated Red Cross shelter for years. Yates said its lack of an emergency generator compromises its value as a shelter, particularly during severe weather. He said there are some funds for needed emergency equipment and he is planning to seek a backup generator for the high school.

In his report, Superintendent Randy Cotner said the board is planning to institute a fee for extracurricular activities whether the levy passes or not. Board members will consider his recommendation at their May meeting. The cost of resuming K-12 bussing will also be discussed.

Board members had discussed the proposed calendar for next school year at last month’s meeting. Cotner explained again that his goal is to end the semester completely before the Christmas break. Currently, exams are completed before the break, but students have two weeks left in the semester when they return after the holidays. With exams out of the way, Cotner believes that time isn’t very productive for learning.

To complete the semester by the Christmas break means starting earlier. Cotner proposed that students start on August 12. After further evaluation, starting on August 12 would still push the semester two days into January. Those two days are required to make sure that one semester courses meet the required 60 hours.

Vice president Faye Whitaker questioned why the last school day before the Christmas break was Dec. 18. “Why can’t we go to school Dec. 21 and 22,” she asked. Cotner said Christmas break has been two weeks long for years. Dr. Glen Keller, husband of board member Karen Keller, asked why the district takes two days off for the Fairfield County Fair in October. Cotner agreed that few students participate in the fair beyond the band’s performance, but warned that changing this tradition would raise an outcry.

Board members approved the proposed calendar by a 4-1 vote. Keller voted “no,” with Whitaker voting a “reluctant yes.” School will start August 12. Students will be off Sept. 2, 3, and 4, for the Sweet Corn Festival and Oct. 15 and 16 for the Fairfield County Fair. Christmas break begins Dec. 21 and students return Jan. 4. Spring break begins March 25 with students returning on April 4. The last day for students will be May 24. Graduation will be Sunday, May 22. Any required make-up for calamity days will start May 25.

On personnel issues, board members approved one year contracts for teachers, Tasha M. Holbert, Katie E. Gilreath, and Heather Metcalf; three year contracts for teacher, Summer Montanez and school nurse, Jill Wiles; and five year contracts for teachers, Joseph Brownfield, Lori Dupler, Noelle M. Harkabus, Tina M. Stoner, Brock M. Swonguer, Tracey K. Tisdale and Angela E. Ulrich.

Board members also accepted with regrets the resignation of bus driver, Tammy Brumfield, for the purpose of retirement. Cotner thanked her for her years of service. Guidance counselor Laura Baffa’s resignation was reluctantly accepted.

Board members set a brief special meeting for 8 a.m. on Monday, April 27, to take the second step to place an additional seven mill levy on the August 4 ballot if needed. The board’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 11, in the elementary school library.

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