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Voters reject area school levies

LANCASTER – School issues didn’t fare well in Fairfield on May 6.

Bern Union’s 2 percent income tax on earned income for 10 years was the only school issue approved in the county.

Liberty Union-Thurston’s bid to make 0.5 percent of the district’s 1.75 percent income tax permanent fell by an unofficial vote of 613-573.

The district has a permanent 1.25 percent income tax that voters approved in 1988. In 2005, voters approved an additional 0.5 percent as a five-year levy and it was renewed for another five years in 2010.

Superintendent Paul Mathews has said that the total 1.75 percent tax is “necessary to insure the financial stability of the school district” hence the request to make it permanent. The 1.75 percent income tax represents almost one quarter of the district’s revenue, at $2.9 million. The district’s annual budget is more than $12 million. The Ohio Department of Taxation certified that the 0.5 percent portion should generate $725,000 annually.

“Considering this was not an increase in taxes, and the cuts and wage freezes implemented over the past four years, the results last evening were certainly disappointing,” Mathews told The Beacon Wednesday. He added that the district “will do some polling and also evaluate how low-voter turnout impacted our issue. The change from a five-year cycle to continuing may be an issue, although this was not perceived as a problem when presenting to many community groups.”

The loss may make it more difficult for Liberty Union to find a new superintendant. The district restarted its search last month to find a replacement for Mathews who is retiring July 31 after 11 years as superintendent and 35 years with the district.

Walnut Township Local School District voters overwhelming rejected an additional 6.9 mill levy for five years by a 628-352 unofficial vote. The district is already spending more than it takes in and has a projected deficit of $433,270 in fiscal year 2015 which begins July 1. That deficit grows to $1,491,599 in fiscal year 2016 and $2,673,889 in fiscal year 2017.

“It’s very disappointing and shocking to lose by that margin,” Superintendent Randy Cotner told The Beacon Wednesday. “We knew it would be a tough issue, but I thought it would be closer than that.”

He said the district will be back on the ballot in November. He and district treasurer Kirk Grandy will discuss options with school board members. “We can’t make enough cuts to cover the deficits and maintain a viable school district,” he explained. “We’re pretty bare bones in staffing right now.”

Cotner said, “We’ll have to do a better job presenting our case. How are we the 42nd wealthiest district in the state when 52 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch?”

The district’s wealth ranking means that the state funds just 21 percent of its expenses which means the other 79 percent must come from local sources.

The district’s 21 percent state funding compares to 56 percent for Liberty Union-Thurston, 35 percent for Lakewood, 58 percent for Pickerington and 56 percent for Fairfield Union.

Board vice president Vince Popo expressed frustration with some voters who apparently believe that forced consolidation with a neighboring district for financial reasons will reduce school taxes. “We’ll be paying their taxes which are already higher than our’s,” he added.

Both Liberty Union-Thurston and Walnut Township school boards meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 12. Liberty Union meets in the district office behind the elementary school and Walnut Township meets in the elementary school library.

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