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Published: 8/4/2005

Schools learn old levy rules do not apply

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After failing for the second straight election to pass an emergency operating levy, the Benton-Carroll-Salem Local School District will consider in the next couple of weeks whether to try again in November.

A five-year, 5.3-mill emergency operating levy lost by nearly 200 votes Tuesday, almost double the margin of the defeat in May.

Voters also rejected a five-year, 4.8-mill levy last November.

Superintendent Fred Schnoor said residents anxious about rising fuel costs and upset about the unresolved state funding stalemate seem to have dug in their heels against tax increases for schools.

"People don't want any more taxes," he said. "They're concerned with the high price of gas. They're concerned with how the state's being run."

In northwest Ohio, six of the 11 school money issues on the special-election ballot were approved. That bucked the statewide trend: In the rest of Ohio, just 13 of 40 tax requests won.

Even renewals, once a safe bet for passage, weren't immune from the anti-tax sentiment. Of the seven renewal levies on Tuesday's ballot, five were defeated, including a five-year, 1 percent income tax in the Seneca East Local School District.

"In this school-funding environment, the old rules just don't apply any more," said Michael Wank, superintendent of the Attica-based district.

Mr. Wank said he expects his district to go back on the ballot in November with the income tax, which funds over 10 percent of its budget.

Mr. Schnoor said his district's finance committee and school board, at meetings next week, will discuss whether to go back on the ballot this fall. The filing deadline for the Nov. 8 election is Aug. 25.

"I'd say our options are all the way from not going on the ballot to running the exact same thing to everything in between," Mr. Schnoor said.

One system that won't be on the ballot next time is the Millcreek-West Unity Local School District, where a bond issue for a new building lost by 40 votes. Tuesday's ballot was the last chance for Millcreek-West Unity to pass the 7.6-mill, $7.1 million bond issue that would have qualified the Williams County district for $14 million in state building aid.

Superintendent Deb Piotrowski said the district plans to talk with the Ohio School Facilities Commission about possibly qualifying for funding.

"I'm not ready to give up yet, and I don't think the community is either," she said.

Sara Lynaugh, a policy and legislative analyst for the state commission, said Millcreek-West Unity is one of just 10 districts that failed to pass bond issues within a year of being approved for state building aid.

Ms. Lynaugh said the district could receive state aid by passing a bond issue next year, though plans and costs would have to be re-evaluated.

"We just kind of put them off to the side, and once they pass, they go right back to the top of the list," she said.

Other districts where levies were rejected Tuesday included Arcadia Local Schools (five-year, 1.5-mill permanent improvement replacement levy) and Lima City Schools (five year, 6.8-mill emergency operating levy).

Even districts that passed tax requests on Tuesday were thinking about having to return to the ballot next year.

Eastwood Local Schools Superintendent Bill McFarland said the celebration for the Wood County district's passage of a five-year, 4.8-mill emergency operating levy would be short. Officials soon will work to garner support for a five-year, 8.9-mill operating levy that expires next year. The issue generates $1.5 million a year.

"The first stage was to pass an emergency levy this year, with the idea that next year we'll be on the ballot at some point," he said.

Other districts where money issues were approved include Clyde-Green Springs Exempted Village Schools (five-year, 5.9-mill emergency operating levy), Gorham-Fayette Local Schools (28-year, 7.1-mill bond issue for construction), Van Buren Local Schools (three-year, 5.5-mill operating levy), and Vanlue Local Schools (four-year, 6.5-mill operating levy).

Blade staff writer Erika Ray contributed to this report.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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