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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Pinched districts make pleas at ballot box

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Liberty-Benton is one of 90 Ohio school districts on the Aug. 3 special election ballot, which Superintendent Dennis Recker hopes isn't lost on voters.

"As time goes by, what I'm seeing in the community is there is a sense that Ohio is in trouble. It's just not Liberty-Benton," he said. "Basically there's a realization that there is something seriously wrong here, and people are saying, 'How are we going to get through this?' It's going to be sacrifice on everyone's part."

The Hancock County district just west of Findlay is asking voters to renew a 5.3-mill operating levy that generates $724,600 a year and to approve an additional 3.3 mills intended to bring in $450,000 a year. Both would run for five years.

Liberty-Benton voters rejected a combined version of the two requests in March.

"It was written that some was additional and some was renewal and people got really confused," Mr. Recker said.

The longtime superintendent isn't threatening to make cuts; he is already making them. Even if both issues pass, he said, the district needs to cut $1 million out of its budget over the next five years.

For the coming school year, Mr. Recker has laid off seven classroom aides, decided not to replace

a vocational agriculture teacher who retired, cut a half-time home economics teacher, and eliminated two bus routes and two bus drivers.

In neighboring Putnam County, Continental Local Schools is taking an unusual approach to increasing the amount of income they receive from tax levies that went on the books decades ago.

Nine separate levies totaling 26.55 mills will be on the August ballot in the form of five replacement levies. Six of the old levies are based on 1976 property valuation levels.

If approved, they would be collected at 2004 values and bring in $389,000 a year more than they currently do.

"It isn't additional millage. It is going to be additional dollars," said Superintendent Sandra Muir.

No one is paying 1976 prices for gasoline or milk, she said. The schools just want to collect property taxes at 2004 prices too.

Ms. Muir said school officials and a levy committee have been working hard to educate voters about the nontraditional approach to increasing school funding.

The district has had a budget deficit for four years despite making nearly $1 million in cuts over the last year.

If any or all of the replacement levies fail, the taxes still will be collected at the old valuation levels, and, Ms. Muir said, Continental would likely be back on the ballot in November.

In the Delphos public school system, which straddles the Allen-Van Wert County border, the board is seeking a five-year, 5.5-mill operating levy that would generate about $910,000 a year.

Superintendent Bruce Sommers said the levy would represent the first new operating dollars in the district in 12 years.

He has been trying to convey to voters the district's financial need is the result of state funding cuts and huge increases in special education costs.

"Our community is very supportive of education," he said. "I think people understand" the reasons for the new levy.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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