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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Lake Local board looks at different levy options

The Lake Local Board of Education last night asked for certification of tax levies ranging from 5 mills up to the same 8.75 mills voters narrowly defeated last week.

Next week, the board is expected to decide whether to put one of those requests on the August ballot and, if so, which one.

In an emotional, standing-room-only meeting, several board members said they would not approve more cuts to the district that has lost seven consecutive new operating tax levies.

"We're the laughingstock of northwest Ohio right now," board President Eric Hirzel said.

His children, who had longed for varsity jackets, now don't want to wear them, he said, because when they do, strangers ask them: "What's wrong with your community?"

He moved to ask the Wood County auditor to certify millage for 5-mill, 6.75-mill, and 7.25-mill requests that the board can choose among at its May 18 meeting. Board members Margene Akenberger and Timothy Krugh asked for an amendment to include the same 8.75-mill request voters denied last Tuesday by 48 votes, according to a final, unofficial count of 1,882-1,934.

Later, audience members asked for an amendment to include 7.75 mills and the district's 1.4-mill permanent improvement levy that leaders want to renew this year. The amended motion passed unanimously.

The board will not consider an income tax, Mr. Krugh said.

Board and audience members worried that because of last week's levy failure students will transfer to other districts through open enrollment. More than $5,400 in state funds follows every student. So, if 50 were to leave, Lake would lose $270,000 in state funds.

Mr. Krugh's answer to the district's money woes was simply to get more yes voters to the polls on the next attempt. The district, he said, is unusual for its strong contingent of no voters.

"Lake is unique. It is not the norm. Lake has always fought for its levies," Mr. Krugh said, mentioning six weeks in the early 1970s when the school closed for lack of funds.

The same people are denying the district's levy requests now, he said, and he accused them of ignoring the facts and spreading untruths.

"We have to find the votes to overcome that group," he said.

Last Tuesday, the majority of the registered voters in the district did not vote at all. Of 8,118 eligible voters in Wood County, 3,804 cast ballots. The district stretches into a small area of Ottawa County as well.

Among the crowd of about 65 people at last night's meeting, Mr. Hirzel said he thought only about five were no voters. And of the 20 people who addressed the board, only a few spoke in any way against the levy requests.

One was Barbara Nichols, who asked the board to make "some big, big cuts."

"We do not want the 8.75," she said. "If you cut it in half, it will pass very fast."

More people made comments similar to levy promoter John Geha, who said the repeated levy failures were destroying the community and would lead to students who are unprepared to compete for top jobs.

"Are you that selfish you cannot open up your eyes and look to the future," he asked. "You have a legal and moral obligation to give the children of your community an opportunity."

Chris Wilson, the district's food service director, said the district has made cuts for years.

"You're ripping these kids apart more than you know," she said. "I know everybody keeps saying cut more, cut more. But we're there. We're to the bone."

Ms. Akenberger worried that the district would become a "ghetto," predicting that real estate prices will fall if a school levy does not pass.

"I don't even understand a no vote," she said. "Unless someone is in poverty, I don't understand it."

Mr. Hirzel said some of the audience's reaction "was uncalled for."

"But that gives you an idea how high the emotions are running," he added.



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