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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2007

TPS views levy losses as sign of tough sell

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Public Schools officials looked at Tuesday's defeat of all but one area school levy and agreed it could signal a tough sell for a levy of their own this year.

Interim Superintendent John Foley said May is traditionally a difficult time for school districts to pass a levy and that the district would consider "all of the dynamics that go into the process" of asking voters to approve a levy.

"I think we do need additional funds to raise the level of pay as well as the level of resources in the school system to make sure we continue to retain the best and brightest teachers," Mr. Foley said.

The district is facing a $12.7 million deficit for the 2007-2008 school year.

The board of education has debated putting a levy on the ballot, but its last attempt was shot down.

The board failed to agree on Aug. 21, 2006, whether to place a tax levy on the Nov. 7, 2006, ballot.

Deborah Barnett, Larry Sykes, and Steve Steel voted in favor of putting the tax measure on the ballot, but it needed four votes to happen. Darlene Fisher and Robert Torres voted against the proposed five-year, 7.99-mill operating levy.

If put before voters and approved, the levy would have generated an estimated $23 million annually and would have cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $244 a year in taxes.

Much of the money raised in the first year of a new levy would have to be used to fund retroactive pay increases to employees for time worked since December, 2002, which is promised under the terms of the last contract. That payment is now about $12 million.

The deadline to get on the November ballot is Aug. 23.

Yesterday, Ms. Barnett, board president, said they would be briefed on the 2007-08 budget before the end of May and get a recommendation from Mr. Foley regarding a levy.

When asked if the district needs a levy, she said: "It's something we have to consider when we are presented with what we need to balance the budget for this district, and is a levy what we need to balance the budget? I would say yes."

Mr. Steel, board vice president, said it is premature to talk about a TPS levy.

"Certainly, in gauging voter sentiment and based on where we would need support to pass a levy, that's all important to consider," Mr. Steel said.

Mr. Torres said Tuesday's results might not be indicative of the voter sentiment in the Toledo Public School District.

He noted that the retroactive payment is a factor that would have to be considered.

Ms. Fisher said Tuesday's results "show the sentiment in the community, especially in the suburban areas that have supported school taxes" in the past.

"I think it has a lot to do with the economy," she said. "People want to support schools, but they can't let go of any more of their finances to support their own families."

She said the school board's image problems and how it handled the recent superintendent selection process could affect a levy request.

Mr. Sykes could not be reached for comment last night.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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