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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

Failure of levy hits hard for Lake High football team

BY GRANT SCHULTE AND STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

MILLBURY - Joel Mass and Shane Pfouts have waited their turn since seventh grade - to help lead the Lake Flyer's football team.

The seniors have been conditioning their bodies and minds for their time in the spotlight.

But voters Tuesday night may have changed all that.

With the defeat of an 11-mill levy Lake Local Schools was seeking, officials said yesterday the football squad may not take the field this year.

"I don't think I went a day this summer without thinking about it," said Joel, a middle linebacker.

Normally at this time of year, Lake High School's football team is preparing for the start of the fall season against its rivals in the Suburban Lakes League.

But district officials said yesterday they expect the school board to stick to a pre-election pledge and cancel all sports and extracurricular activities.

The board is expected to decide the fate of the football program and other activities during a special meeting at 6 tonight.

"It would be devastating to our program, and not only to our program, but all sports," Lake football coach Jim Kubuske said.

Superintendent Paul Orshoski held out little hope that the board would reverse course.

"I have every indication that they plan to follow through with their previous decision not to have extracurricular activities," he said. "It's a shame. We have beautiful facilities, and we won't be able to use them, but the community has spoken."

Earlier this year, the school board imposed $1.2 million in budget cuts, contingent on the outcome of Tuesday's vote.

The levy would have raised $2.5 million a year for three years and cost $337 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Mr. Orshoski said the district will inform the Suburban Lakes League tomorrow whether Lake will field athletic teams this fall.

Officials in other suburban Toledo school districts began finalizing budget cuts after watching levy requests go down to defeat. Voters rejected operating levies in the Genoa Area Schools and the Swanton Local Schools and a permanent improvement levy in the Rossford Exempted Village Schools.

But, the Woodmore Local Schools won narrow approval of a 4.9-mill, five-year operating levy to replace a 2.9-mill issue that expires in December. The tax will generate $750,000 a year for the district, which straddles Ottawa and Sandusky counties.

In the Genoa district, Treasurer Michael Weis said officials were preparing to notify parents about the elimination of busing for high school students and new pay-to-play fees for sports and extracurricular activities in all grade levels. Voters in the Ottawa County district narrowly defeated a 5.25-mill continuing levy for operations that would have raised $787,000 a year.

This spring, school officials laid off 33 employees and imposed the busing reduction and pay-to-play fees. Students will now pay $120 for their first activity, $100 for their second activity, and $80 for their third activity.

"It's obviously not a pleasant situation, but we had a plan in place, and we're moving forward," Mr. Weis said.

Mr. Weis, who is also the district's transportation director, said 130 out of 440 high school students were bussed last school year; the rest drove, were dropped off, or walked.

Terri Caraway, a Genoa resident who has four sons in district schools, said she was uneasy about the new busing policy. Her oldest son, who will be a high school junior, has his driver's license but no car, meaning he'll have to ride with her or carpool with friends.

Other students without bus service will probably drive, she said, creating the potential for more accidents. "These kids fly down my road, and I'm sure parents are going to be eager now to get their kids licenses," Ms. Caraway said.

In the Swanton Local School District, officials reacted to the defeat of a three-year, 6.96-mill renewal levy by scheduling a special school board meeting for Monday to take the first of two steps to place the levy back on the Nov. 2 ballot. The board could vote during a meeting Aug. 16 to officially put the measure on the ballot before the Aug. 19 filing deadline.

Collected at an effective rate of 4.34 mills, the levy generates $825,000 a year. Unless voters approve the levy this fall, the district would face a $412,000 deficit in fiscal year 2005, said Cheryl Swisher, Swanton's treasurer.

"This levy is critical to our fiscal health," Superintendent Kevin McQuade said. "We're two years away from the full benefit of the [1.25 percent] income tax passed in March."

The No Swanton Tax Committee plans to campaign against the levy. Jeff Michael, a committee member, said in a statement that the group intends "to provide factual information that encourages the residents to educate themselves in the facts of the issues and decide for themselves rather than simply believing what the schools and board are telling them."

One of the facts confronting Lake Local officials is what they would have to charge student athletes to maintain the district's sports programs.

"The board is philosophically opposed to pay to participate, for a lot of reasons. They believe if you go to pay to participate, the program should pay for itself, and the cost per child would be too enormous for parents to pay for that," Lake Superintendent Orshoski said yesterday.

The possibility of the cancellation of football at the school is already causing concern among area coaches.

Ken James, football coach and athletic director at Northwood, said the loss of athletics at Lake would affect the schedule of virtually every team at Northwood. "A lot of people at both schools look forward to the 'Battle of LeMoyne Road,' so this would affect a lot of kids."

"I feel bad for the kids and the coaches [at Lake]," Mr. James said. "Our kids started lifting [weights] last December to prepare for this season, and I'm sure that's when their kids started too. To lose the opportunity to play, especially this close to the start of practice and the season, would be devastating."

He said he is looking for an opponent to replace Lake should the Flyers back out of their scheduled game on Sept. 3.

"We've been making contact with schools around the state" for a potential opponent, Coach James said. "We're trying to get a game in Ohio, but we'll play a team from Michigan or Pennsylvania if we have to. I feel like a vulture, trying to pick up a potential opponent that's got an opening in their schedule too."

Back at Lake, team members are trying to deal with the loss.

Senior safety Shane Pfouts said he was also worried about baseball being eliminated.

"I've been at Lake since third grade," said Shane, "but I'll have to think about leaving if it gets cut. I hate not to play here, but I need to play."

A few feet away in the school's weight room, 15-year-old Chris Mendieta took a break from leg lifts to sum it up more succinctly: "I think it sucks."

Blade staff writers Janet Romaker and John Wagner contributed to this report.

Contact Grant Schulte at:

gschulte@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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