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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

Lake Local to go back to voters in August

The Lake Local School District last night struck a compromise and voted to place a 6.75-mill tax issue on the Aug. 8 ballot that is smaller than the last levy attempt earlier this month.

The Lake school district is 0 for 9 in levy attempts since 1999, and members of the Board of Education said it has been 14 years since voters approved a new operating levy.

"Passing a levy in this community has never been an easy process," board member Margene Akenberger said to a filled board room of 50 people.

After the 4-0 vote, with Kenneth Smith abstaining, the board agreed 5-0 to restore extracurricular activities and janitorial positions that had been eliminated.

Athletics were eliminated and other activities cut in June, 2005.

Restoration of extracurricular activities will occur regardless of the levy's outcome and is intended to stem the loss of students from the financially troubled district, said board member Timothy Krugh, who proposed the measure.

"If we can keep 50 students here, it will pay for the co-curriculars," Mr. Krugh said.

The 6.75-mill levy would generate $1,521,182 a year, Treasurer Jeff Carpenter said.

The board of education weighed several millages ranging from 5 mills to 8.75 mills, the latter which voters rejected on May 2 by 48 votes.

Mr. Krugh, who proposed the 6.75-mill levy for the Aug. 8 ballot, said it represented "a major compromise."

Mrs. Akenberger, who advocated a higher levy, said the district could not afford to take a "Band-Aid" approach to school finances that would force it to return to voters in three years for more money.

"I want my kids to have what they need [for their education]," she said, adding, "I'm not going to back down."

Mr. Smith, saying he was not against seeking a levy, abstained from the vote because he felt a small, 5-mill levy had a better chance of success.

A 5-mill levy found support among many of the dozen members of the public who spoke during the 90 minutes devoted to the tax issue.

Dan Wilcznski, mayor of Walbridge, said seeking a smaller levy would appeal to elderly voters in his community.

Brad Schwemberger attributed past failures to a lack of communication and what he said was a failure by the board to explain how the district is spending the money it has.

"I believe I'm speaking for the silent majority," he said. "You need to explain how the money will be used."

Mr. Carpenter, the district treasurer, said his five-year forecast of the district's finances showed continued losses of students at a rate of 75 a year with the continued failure to pass a levy. Each student defection costs the district $4,500 in state funds, which could bleed the district of $337,500 a year.

"The bad news is, our situation is in dire straits here. Enrollment is going to be our key here," Mr. Carpenter said.

The board decided not to seek renewal of a 1.4-mill, five-year permanent improvement levy in August, but Mrs. Akenberger said the renewal must appear on the November ballot because it expires next year.

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