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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2004

Area schools pin their levy hopes on Tuesday vote

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Millcreek-West Unity school board wants to make a deal with voters: Approve a 1 percent income tax Tuesday, and they'll let a 5.2-mill property tax expire.

"What we're trying to do is kind of get an equal balance between income tax and property tax," said district Treasurer Marilyn Wreede. "The last survey we did showed 83 percent of the people wanted a fairer tax."

The Williams County school district has had its share of ups and downs in recent years. Voters soundly rejected a 7.9-mill operating levy in November, and the only thing that saved extracurricular activities and bussing was a local fund-raising effort.

Some $200,000 was raised to keep the district afloat, and voters responded in March by approving an emergency 5.2-mill operating levy.

"It's very difficult to be back on the ballot," Ms. Wreede conceded. "We just keep having to come back to the voters and back to the voters. We keep hoping the state will change the way they fund schools, but it doesn't seem to be getting any better fast."

The income tax would generate an estimated $500,000 a year for a continuing period.

In Defiance County, the North Central Local Schools are seeking both a permanent 1 percent income tax and a five-year, 4.9-mill operating levy.

Superintendent Stephen Lewis said the income tax would bring in about $550,000 a year, while the property tax would generate about $386,000 annually. The district needs both, he said.

"We need to start collecting revenue this school fiscal year in order to stabilize ourselves and prevent further cuts and reductions," he said, explaining that the board already has reduced staff and services by 10 percent to save about $340,000. "We can make it through this school year with no further reductions, but we probably would be looking at further reductions next spring.

"If only one passes, we're just delaying the problem. If both pass, it will stabilize us for five years or more."

Mr. Lewis said he is counting on community pride. "We haven't asked the community for help in 10 years," he said.

In Henry County, Patrick Henry voters will decide a five-year, 5.9-mill operating levy intended to raise $590,000 a year.

Superintendent Susan Miko stressed that this would be the district's first new operating dollars in a decade as well, although the district has been on the ballot consistently in recent years. It took four tries for voters to pass a bond issue in 2002 to help pay for a new middle school. A smaller bond issue was approved in 2001 to make renovations at the Deshler and Malinta elementary buildings.

In March, voters rejected an 8.75-mill additional operating levy, prompting the board to eliminate six teaching positions and a principal and consolidate elementary grades that had been split between two buildings.

Ms. Miko said if the smaller, 5.9-mill request fails, voters likely will see another request in November. "My hope is that it does pass this time because we want to start the school year off on a positive note, and we don't want to devote all our energies thinking of all sorts of scenarios if it fails in November," she said.

In Paulding County, Antwerp Local schools are asking voters to double the district's income tax to 1.5 percent. The additional income tax would generate about $409,000 a year for the district, which recently moved into a new, $21 million campus. The state paid for 84 percent of the K-12 building.

"We're trying to get the word out to the public that it's not the building that's causing the problem," Superintendent David Bagley said. "If we were in the old building, we'd still be asking for the money."

In addition to increased operating costs, the 720-student district has lost students due, in part, to the closing of a local factory. "We were down 45 kids last school year that we just didn't know about," Mr. Bagley said. "That was a huge loss for us."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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