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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

Lake votes to restore sports, clubs; 1.25 percent income tax sought in Nov. to keep school solvent

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MILLBURY The Lake Local school board, making what one member called a great leap of faith, voted to restore more than $700,000 in sports, clubs, and academic programs and placed a five-year, 1.25 percent income tax on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The decisions, made last night before an overflow crowd of several hundred people at the former Millbury Elementary School, mean the Wood County school district is banking on approval of the tax to keep the district from sliding into an operating deficit next year.

The audience, some of whom were standing in the hallway outside the meeting room, exploded with applause after the vote to restore the programs, including football and most other high school sports.

It s so much better, Lake senior Matthew Stewart, who plays soccer and trumpet for the high school band, said with a wide smile. It s going to be great now back to normal!

The restoration of programs marks a stunning turnaround by the school board.

Lake senior Angie Blasingim of Millbury listens to the school board's decision on restoring some student activities. Lake senior Angie Blasingim of Millbury listens to the school board's decision on restoring some student activities.
MAXWELL / BLADE Enlarge

Less than two weeks ago, members affirmed plans to cancel all extracurricular activities and make other program cuts totaling $1.2 million after voters decisively rejected a three-year, 11-mill property tax on Aug. 3.

Board president Jeffrey Griffith and his colleagues said they were swayed by a grass-roots petition drive, which garnered 2,277 signatures in support of an income tax, a pay-to-play system for student activities, and the restoration of extracurriculars and other district programs.

I think it s a great leap of faith on the board s part to go into this ... but it s a leap of faith I m willing to take, board member Margene Akenberger said.

You guys are telling us this is what you want to do, board member Kurt Johnson told the crowd. Let s go for it!

But support for the plan wasn t unanimous. Board vice president Tim DeLong cast the lone dissenting votes on both the tax and the restorations, and some in the audience argued that an income tax would be too costly for families.

Please don t take my votes as a slam against the committee, Mr. DeLong said. I m looking at the greater good.

Resident Claudia Bock called on the board to place another property tax on the ballot to fund student activities and classes.

I want them to have their sports and stuff, but the income tax would be more of a burden on anyone who has an income, she said to scattered clapping.

According to estimates from the Ohio Department of Taxation, the 1.25 percent income tax would raise about $2 million a year, or $500,000 less than the 11 mills that voters rejected two weeks ago.

Mr. Johnson said he wanted an income tax to be permanent, but he and his colleagues settled for a five-year issue at the urging of audience members who said it would be easier to sell to voters.

We just need to get this passed, resident Michael Stickney said.

Lake Local treasurer Nancy Heckman cautioned that the district would not begin to receive full collections from an income tax until 18 months after it passes, worsening the system s short-term financial crunch. In addition, the tax plan approved by the board won t raise enough money to ensure the district s long-term stability, she added.

An income tax for five years is not going to do it for us just so you know, she said.

Besides restoring nearly all high school sports and activities, the board reinstated a breakfast program, high school elective courses, a tutoring service, drug-testing for athletes, and four custodial and one secretary s positions. Also restored was a high school social studies teaching position, an elementary school counselor s job, and reading recovery and intervention specialist programs.

The board let stand about $425,000 in cuts, including some elementary, junior high, and freshman sports and clubs.

Tempers frayed in the hot, crowded room as the board debated whether to restore winter and spring sports or wait until the outcome of the income tax vote in November.

Angry parents blasted school officials for refusing to consider a pay-to-play system and for blocking students from transferring to other districts after the board canceled extracurricular activities Aug. 5.

Some asked if the district would release students to go elsewhere if the tax failed again in November and winter and spring athletic seasons were canceled.

My kids don t even want to go here anymore, Scott Ten Eyck said. You wouldn t sign off for them going anywhere else. You re holding them hostage.

Mr. Griffith, the board president, said the debate about second-semester sports was muddying the waters and called for his colleagues to restore activities for the entire school year.

The board heard a presentation on proposed pay-to-play fees ranging from $20 for elementary students for each nonathletic activity to $300 per sport for high school athletes. A committee will study a system for 2005-06.

Contact Steve Murphy at:smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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