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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Defiance students mobilize for levy

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
L.J. Helton, in the foreground, and Eric Sierra, Nick Engel, and Matt Knipp, from left behind him, do yard work at a home in Defiance. Nearly 150 students have been volunteering their time after school to do odd jobs for residents. L.J. Helton, in the foreground, and Eric Sierra, Nick Engel, and Matt Knipp, from left behind him, do yard work at a home in Defiance. Nearly 150 students have been volunteering their time after school to do odd jobs for residents.
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DEFIANCE - Sweat trickled down Austin Keel's face yesterday, but the Defiance High School quarterback wasn't exhausted from throwing passes.

With a leaf blower in hand, Austin spent part of the afternoon cleaning yard debris from a local resident's lawn.

Then he kneeled on the ground to remove small sticks from a stone garden bed, as his teammates raked in circles around him.

As the primary election approaches, Austin and nearly 150 other high school students here have been volunteering their time after school this month to do odd jobs for residents.

They're hoping their goodwill gestures will encourage people to vote “yes” on a 7.1-mill tax request May 7. They also want to repay those people who recently donated nearly $10,000 to help underwrite the schools' levy campaign.

Two higher operating requests failed in Defiance last year, one in August and the other in November.

“The whole premise of this thing is to show we have great kids who are willing to do anything to pass the levy,” said Jerry Buti, the head football coach who organized the school's work-a-thon. “Anyone who calls, we'll come out to work. We've painted, cleaned gutters, and done yard work.”

For 16-year-old Austin, the passage of the five-year emergency levy is crucial.

Only a sophomore, Austin was a starter on the Defiance football team. He plans to continue playing for the Bulldogs the next two years, but football will be abolished if the levy is defeated.

He said his family already has discussed moving to another district this summer if the tax request fails. Other students have had similar conversations.

“People are talking about where are you going to go if it doesn't pass?” said Eric Sierra, 17, also a football player.

Red, white, and blue election signs that say S.O.S., for Save our Schools, have been posted recently outside some homes in this Defiance County community. Many of those signs have been stapled together and placed in lawns by athletes, Mr. Buti said.

Superintendent Dr. Richard Motuelle said yesterday that all supplemental contracts, including those for coaches, will not be renewed next school year if the levy is defeated.

He said the board plans to send nonrenewal notices to affected staff on Monday.

Despite some residents' speculation, Dr. Motuelle said the proposed cutbacks are not meant to be threats. He said the school board will be forced to abolish extracurricular activities in the 2,600-student district - including the well-traveled marching band - because of a looming deficit.

“There's a segment of our community where I'm hearing: We don't like threats,” the superintendent said. “I hate the word threat. I think the issues are real issues. The action we had to take was simply on a financial basis.”

He said the school board has tried to respond to all community input.

“I think what we've done, at least what I'm hearing, is the community has said two things: One was tighten your belt. I think we've done that. And the other was come back with less millage, and we've done that,” he said.

Earlier this year, the school board approved $452,712 in mandatory cuts that will remain in effect even if the tax is approved. That includes laying off the equivalent of 101/2 full-time teachers and five full-time support staff members. Those notices will be issued Monday.

An additional $805,527 in reductions, which include the supplemental contracts, are planned pending the levy outcome.

The 7.1-mill levy, which was scaled back from a combined 11-mill request last year, would raise an estimated $1.58 million annually for the schools. One mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value.

The tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $217 more a year. Dr. Motuelle said that amount is a $49 increase from what taxpayers were paying for the previous levy.



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