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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Lake Local, Genoa, Eastwood: 3 school districts seek levies

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three eastern suburban school districts are asking voters to approve funding requests on May 3, but for varying reasons.

Lake Local Schools needs funding to head off a budget deficit that officials say will start at $1.4 million next school year and increase. Genoa Area Local Schools wants to bring back programs and personnel that have been cut over the past two years; and Eastwood Local Schools officials are being proactive in asking for money now to prevent a projected budget deficit they say will start in 2007.

Lake Local Schools voters will be asked to approve a three-year, 8.75-mill emergency levy, expected to raise $2 million a year "to maintain the quality of education and the programs that we currently have," Superintendent Paul Orshoski said. "I would say that a vote for Lake schools is a vote for Lake's students."

The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $268 annually.

If the levy passes, the district would reinstate bus transportation - which was reduced to state minimums in February - "in some form," Mr. Orshoski said. District officials would also impose a pay-to-participate fee for sports that would be capped at $600 per family and would range from $10 to $120; leave several positions unfilled or staffed by volunteers; and keep some expenses frozen.

If the levy fails, Mr. Orshoski said the board of education will most likely bypass the August election, make numerous budget cuts for next school year, and go on the ballot for the third time in 2005 in November. "We'll definitely start the school year with many cuts in place," he said.

The proposed list of cuts include all sports and extracurriculars except those required by law. The board may also cut the food service program and some custodial shifts.

Lake schools has been on the ballot three times in the past nine months, and voters have defeated all four levy requests, including an 11-mill property tax in August, a 1.25 percent income tax in November, and a combination of a 0.5 percent income tax and a $2 million property tax estimated to be equivalent to 8.75 mills in February.

Genoa Area Local Schools officials said the district needs about 2.25 mills to keep status quo, and that bringing back transportation and other programs and personnel that have been cut over the past two years are top priorities.

Therefore, the board of education agreed to ask voters to approve a three-year, 4.9-mill operating levy that will bring in $425,000 a year and will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 a year.

"Transportation will come back if the levy is successful," Superintendent Dennis Mock said. "The main focus is on transportation and reducing the student and pay-to-participate fees."

As an incentive for the community to approve the levy, board members said they would like to reduce K-12 fees to $40, and the pay-to-participate fees to a flat $60 for each activity.

If the levy doesn't pass, Mr. Mock said district officials would not return any programs that were cut and they plan to look at increasing fees and limiting bus transportation.

"It's important that we continue with the current academic programs," he said.

The district has asked voters to approve six levies since 2000, and half of those have passed.

Eastwood Local Schools officials are projecting a 2007 budget deficit because of dwindling carryover balances, so the board of education is being proactive in asking voters to approve a five-year, 4.8-mill emergency operating levy, Superintendent Bill McFarland said. The levy would generate $878,000 a year, and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $147 annually.

"Due to increasing costs, we need the funds to continue to operate Eastwood schools as they are presently being operated," Mr. McFarland said.

Though nothing is officially on the chopping block at this point if a levy is not passed, Mr. McFarland said officials from the district that includes Luckey and Pemberville plan to make some reductions because of decreased enrollment.

"There's nothing definite at this point," he said.

The last time the school district was on the ballot for current expenses was in 2001. The district had trouble passing the five-year, 8.9-mill levy - it was on the ballot in February and May of that year before voters finally approved the levy in November to replace a 1996 levy. That levy generates $1.5 million a year for the district.



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