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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2005

Lake Local searches for funding solutions

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A Lake Elementary student boards a bus a day after voters in the Lake Local School District rejected a levy proposal. Past defeats have led to busing being cut to state minimums. A Lake Elementary student boards a bus a day after voters in the Lake Local School District rejected a levy proposal. Past defeats have led to busing being cut to state minimums.
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Lake Local School District officials said they're struggling to figure out what to do next, now that voters rejected the sixth consecutive levy attempt for new money to keep the district operating.

After defeating a five-year emergency property tax levy equivalent to 8.74 mills on Tuesday, the reality is that the district is facing a deficit of more than $1.5 million by the end of 2008 and has lost the chance to collect any new funding next year.

Lake's levy, which would have brought in $1.8 million annually to the Wood County district that includes a tiny part of Ottawa County, was defeated by a vote of 2,218 (52 percent) to 2,011 (48 percent), according to final, unofficial results. That marks the smallest gap between "yes" and "no" votes in the last five elections.

The school system joins several other regional districts that suffered levy defeats, including Port Clinton, Bowling Green, and Benton-Carroll-Salem Local Schools.

Lake board members said they're working on getting their schedules aligned for a workshop session to look at future options, which could include more tweaking of an already barren budget, and possibly another levy attempt as early as February.

"One option that is not available to me is further cuts," board member Tim Krugh said. "We've made all the deep cuts without totally gutting our primary mission and that is to educate our children."

While having the state step in is an option, district officials said that would most likely be a worst-case scenario.

"We don't want the state to come in and mandate what we have to do and make more cuts," board President Margene Akenberger said. "It's bad now, but if the state came in, I just think it would be ugly."

Reduction measures totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years have eliminated bus service to state transportation minimums, the supplemental positions that oversee sports and extracurricular activities, and four custodial jobs. Board member Eric Hirzel said the district could cut corners to save money by offering teachers early retirement incentives to reduce what the district is paying in wages and benefits or by shutting down the district's Millbury building that contains the superintendent's and treasurer's offices.

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the state sympathizes with the Lake officials.

"Voters in their community need to think of education as an investment, and not a cost," he said. "Whether we have school-aged children or not, the quality of the schools in our communities has a direct effect on our property values and influences whether people want to live in our communities."

Statewide election results were more positive for the 222 school issues on the ballot. The election resulted in an overall 57.21 passage rate, with 127 issues passing and 95 issues failing, according to unofficial results.

Local and regional school districts that saw funding requests approved Tuesday include Genoa Area Local schools; Defiance, Lima, and Maumee city schools; Perrysburg Exempted Village schools, and Vanlue Local Schools.

Also approved was the 2.84-mill, 28-year bond issue and a 0.5-mill continuing maintenance levy for the Defiance City School District.

The "yes" vote on the combined issue will allow the Defiance County district to break ground next year for a $23 million elementary school. The new building, which would replace the city's four neighborhood schools, is slated to be completed in August, 2007. The bond issue and maintenance levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $117 a year.

Other districts in the region weren't so lucky with their tax requests.

The 4.2-mill, 28-year bond issue in the Port Clinton school district lost by about 400 votes.

The tax measure would have raised $37 million and allowed the district to replace four aging schools with two new ones. The package also included plans to renovate Bataan Elementary School into a replacement for Port Clinton Middle School, which opened in 1922.

"I think something like this just takes time," Superintendent Patrick Adkins said. "I still believe it's the right plan. It's the right thing for our community."

Mr. Adkins said the board of education would discuss the election results before deciding whether to put the plan back on the ballot, revise it, or take some other course.

The defeat of an operating levy in another Ottawa County district, Benton-Carroll-Salem, left Superintendent Fred Schnoor frustrated. Voters rejected the 3.9-mill, five-year emergency operating levy by just over 100 votes - the district's fourth such defeat in the past year. He cited the economy and voter resistance to higher taxes as reasons for another defeat at the polls.

"The first couple defeats, we dealt with some issues, but we're almost past that," he said. "It's just 'No, we don't want any more taxes.' When we started this thing, gas was at $3 a gallon, and people are concerned."

Bowling Green City Schools superintendent Hugh Caumartin said he planned to advise the school board to sit back and let the dust settle before trying to figure out why voters resoundingly rejected a 5.43-mill bond issue that would have raised $43.2 million for a variety of construction projects. The largest project on the list was a new middle school to replace the aging junior high school on West Wooster Street. The proposed school would have been located at the high school campus and moved fifth and sixth graders from the elementary buildings to the middle school with seventh and eighth graders.

"With something like this, there were so many variables that range from grade configuration to the status of the economy and everything in between," Mr. Caumartin said, adding that the district's building issues will not go away. "We know the junior high is not going to get newer. It's going to continue to get older and have more and more problems. Crim [Elementary] is not going to give birth to a multi-purpose room."

Still, the board will have to figure out which projects taxpayers feel are the most important.

"The board wanted to put on the ballot what they thought was very best for kids period," he said. "Sometimes you have to come from what is the best to what's the reality, and I think we have to find a compromise."

Blade staff writers Jennifer Feehan, Ignazio Messina, Steve Murphy, and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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