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Education

Lake Local considers income-tax proposal

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    Mary Cole, left, enlists the support of Cindy Smithers in a drive to fund Lake Local schools with an income tax.

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MILLBURY - The Lake Local Board of Education moved to put an income tax on the November ballot yesterday and left open the possibility that the district's football team and other student activities may be resurrected this fall.

Meeting in special session, the board heard from a leader of a citizens group circulating petitions supporting an income tax as an alternative to the 11-mill property levy voters rejected last week.

Mark Timmons, a Walbridge village councilman, told board members the group is seeking donations to the school district and will campaign to get a tax issue passed this fall.

"I still contend we can save this school year," Mr. Timmons said, asking the board to rescind $1.2 million in budget cuts.

Responding to the grass-roots campaign, school board members said they will study the district's finances this week and decide Monday whether to restore some or all of the extracurricular and academic programs for the coming school year.

District officials acknowledged they have to act quickly if they're going to be able to reinstate sports such as football.

"I'm going to call [Lake athletic director] Dave Shaffer and ask him to contact the other schools and say there's an opening possibly, and if at all possible, could you not schedule us out just yet," Superintendent Paul Orshoski said. The district informed the Suburban Lakes League on Friday that Lake would not be fielding athletic teams this school year.

During the special meeting, the board passed two resolutions that would give the district the option of putting an income tax or a combined income tax-property tax on the Nov. 2 ballot.

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One resolution asks the state tax commissioner to determine how large an income tax would be needed to generate $1.2 million, $1.6 million, $2 million, or $2.5 million a year. The other asks the Wood County auditor to determine the amounts that would be raised by property levies of 5.5, 6, or 6.5 mills.

Last week, the board asked the auditor to certify an 11-mill levy for the Nov. 2 ballot.

Also moving yesterday to put a tax request on the fall ballot was the Genoa Area Schools. During a special meeting, board members of the Ottawa County school district passed a resolution asking the county auditor to certify the amount that would be raised by a 5-mill renewal levy for operations.

While proceeding with the renewal of a levy that expires at the end of 2005, the Genoa board decided not to try again for new millage until next year. Last week, Genoa district voters narrowly defeated a 5.25-mill operating levy that would have boosted revenue by $809,000 a year.

The decision means Genoa schools will operate throughout 2004-05 under $1.2 million in budget cuts, including eliminating high school busing, pay-to-play fees for sports and clubs, and the layoff of 33 employees.

Board member Thomas Scheanwald said he has received numerous calls from parents upset by the pay-to-play fees, which start at $120 per student per season, and revised bus schedules that cut out high school students and include longer routes for younger children.

"Those two items are what have the community upset," he said.

But Mr. Scheanwald and his colleagues voted unanimously to pursue the renewal first.

"My thought is, we can't run both of them. That would be suicidal," said Les Wyse, president of the Genoa school board.

In the Lake district, Mr. Timmons said he and other residents working on the petition campaign have found voters more receptive to an income tax.

"Basically, what we're looking for is an alternative," he said. "I don't think we have too much faith in an 11-mill levy. It's too much of a hardship for our senior citizens who are on a fixed income."

Mr. Timmons said one business has offered to donate $50,000 toward a restoration of district programs, and other individuals have offered to give $1,000 each.

District officials applauded the show of support but expressed concern about the risk of restoring programs and then having voters reject a revised tax issue in November. If that happened, the district would face a projected deficit of up to $1.2 million in June, 2005, and the possibility of state intervention.

"It's going to take a lot of trust on the board's part," Mr. Orshoski said.

The superintendent also noted that the last time the district offered voters an income tax, in 1993, it lost by a 4-to-1 margin.

Board members also made it clear they want the citizens' group to support restoring high school elective courses, a tutoring program, and other academic programs as well as sports.

"The income tax is going to cost me twice what the 11 mills would, and I'm willing to pay that, but I'm greedy," board member Ted Hubler said. "I want all-day, everyday kindergarten out of this."

The board scheduled a special work session at 8 p.m. Friday at the district offices to discuss its options. At that time, Mr. Timmons said his group would inform the board of progress on the petition and fund-raising drives.

The board then will decide whether to restore programs and what type of tax to put on the November ballot at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.

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