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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

Districts weigh options after electorate speaks

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Continental Local Schools tried a novel approach to boosting tax revenues and received a not-so-novel response: no.

"They went down miserably," Superintendent Sandra Muir said yesterday, discussing the five operating levies the district proposed to replace nine tax issues. "What do you say to that? I'm very disappointed."

The Putnam County district was one of several in the area that voters rejected their ballot requests Tuesday. Fostoria, Tiffin, and Millcreek-West Unity were among those approving new taxes.

Rather than asking for new millage, Continental took nine operating levies that have been on the tax rolls since the 1970s, consolidated them into five, and asked voters to replace the millage at today's property values. In effect, the millage would stay the same, but property taxes would go up, generating $389,000 more a year for the school district.

Ms. Muir said she has no doubt voters knew what the school board was trying to do.

"People were understanding it. The problem was, once they figured up what it would cost, they didn't want to put that toward education," she said. "We're still spending 1976 dollars today." The school board will most likely look at putting either a new operating levy or an income tax on the November ballot when it meets Tuesday, Ms. Muir said.

Despite the apparent passage of a five-year, 5-mill levy for operations in the Tiffin City Schools, Superintendent Denise Callihan took a cautious stance on election night. The measure passed by 22 votes, but 67 provisional ballots remain to be counted Aug. 16, when the Seneca County Board of Elections will certify the results.

"We're cautiously optimistic," she said. "However, we are very appreciative of the support of the community."

For Tiffin schools, the 5 mills would generate $1.6 million a year. The board earlier approved $1.2 million in budget cuts, including layoffs and cuts

in sports and clubs, to avoid a $600,000 deficit by June, 2005. If the yes vote holds, the district plans to rescind some cuts.

On the eastern edge of Seneca County, Fostoria City Schools also won a cliffhanger vote on a five-year, 9.63-mill operating levy. The measure passed by eight votes, pending a count of 11 provisional ballots.

Superintendent Cynthia Lemmerman said the district would scale back plans to end busing for high school students by offering service to those who live two miles or more from Fostoria High School. The district also will allow a 4.75-mill operating levy to expire at the end of 2005, she added.

"It was not a good day for schools out there, so we were fortunate," Ms. Lemmerman said.

Another district that bucked the anti-tax trend was Monroeville, in Erie and Huron counties, where a 3.6-mill, five-year renewal for operations passed comfortably. The Huron City Schools in Erie County, placed in fiscal emergency by the state in May, won approval for a five-year, 1.35-mill operating levy renewal, but a new five-year, 6.9-mill levy was rejected.

Other money requests in Erie and Huron counties were defeated as well, including Perkins (6.9-mill continuing operating levy), Willard (five-year, 5.7-mill operating levy), and Bellevue (28-year, 1.85-mill bond issue for school construction).

In Paulding County, Antwerp Local school officials are preparing to return to voters in November with the same income tax request defeated this week.

Superintendent David Bagley said the board likely will meet tomorrow to begin the process of placing the request - which would double the district's income tax to 1.5 percent - on the general election ballot.

Mr. Bagley said the $409,000 that would have been raised by an additional tax is still needed in the 750-student district, which has lost students in recent years. Voters in the Patrick Henry Local district also can expect another tax request in November, Superintendent Susan Miko said on election night.

The district was seeking a five-year, 5.9-mill operating levy. In nearby Williams County, officials at the North Central Local school district were looking for answers as to why two school levy requests were rejected. Voters were asked to pass a permanent 1 percent income tax and a five-year, 4.9-mill operating levy.

The two issues combined would have raised more than $900,000 annually.

Officials in the Liberty-Benton school district, near Findlay, were planning to discuss their split election vote tallies at a meeting Aug. 11, Superintendent Dennis Recker said.

Liberty-Benton residents renewed a 5.3-mill operating levy but defeated a request for an additional 3.3 mills.

Blade staff writers Kim Bates and Steve Murphy contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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