MILLERSPORT – The third time was not the charm for Walnut Township Schools’ emergency 7-mill, five-year levy.
Voters rejected it by a 586-484 unofficial result on Tuesday’s primary election. The May 6 filing deadline for the special August election forced school board members to decide last month whether to try again in August. Board members unanimously agreed to place it on the August 4 ballot. If voters had approved it Tuesday, the issue could be taken off the August ballot at no cost to the district. which failed 484 votes in favor to 586 against according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s May primary election. The levy will appear again on the Aug. 4 special election ballot.
Although very disappointed, Walnut Township Schools Superintendent Randy Cotner appreciated the support the levy did garner. “I want to thank all the people who did support us,” he said. “It’s disappointing the majority voted not to support our kids.”
Cotner said the district’s financial needs are not “manufactured,” and the levy is extremely important to the district’s ability to sustain itself. “This puts us in deeper financial stress,” he said. “We’ll be in fiscal watch or emergency if this continues not to pass.”
Cotner said residents’ concerns about the state of Buckeye Lake and how long it will take to return to normal water levels isn’t directly related to the school levy but may have influenced voters negatively. He said the dam crisis has placed a “dark cloud” over lake dependent businesses that may not be able to weather the long low pool and subsequent loss of tourists and part-time residents.
“I think it’s a difficult time for the whole community,” Cotner said, adding that the community’s difficulties would only increase if the levy fails again in August. He said the district already cut more than $800,000 from its expenses. “But, every cut takes opportunities away from kids,” Cotner said. He said the district also lost $258,000 per year in revenue when the levy failed in November after board members combined a long-time five-year emergency levy with the new levy. “People’s tax duplicates went down,” Cotner said, which compounds the district’s financial problems.
“We can’t reduce what we’re asking for any more,” Cotner said. He said he wasn’t sure how the district would alter its levy campaign for the August ballot. “Obviously, something has to change,” Cotner said. On the bright side, he said more people voted for the levy this time. Still, the levy failed by about 100 votes. Cotner said he welcomes questions from voters about the district’s finances and needs. He said community meetings before Tuesday’s vote were not well attended.
Cotner said the impact of cuts made earlier to avoid going into fiscal emergency will be felt by students and parents when the new school year starts in August. They are far more stringent than the cuts made to avoid a June 30, 2015, deficit.
Even if voters had approved the levy Tuesday, the district wouldn’t collect the additional revenue until 2016. So the cuts that include six teaching positions would take effect for at least the first semester.
“At the start of next school year, it’s going to hit people,” Cotner said. “This is what happened. The cuts in place are in place.” He hopes the reality of those cuts will help convince parents to support the levy in August. “Our kids need your support,” Cotner said.
According to the Fairfield County Auditor’s office, the levy would cost homeowners $245 per year per $100,000 home valuation, and it would’ve raised roughly $1 million annually.