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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Oregon schools stress need for funding

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Facing a $1 million deficit for the 2010-11 school year, the Oregon Board of Education decided yesterday to pursue putting a 10-year emergency levy on the Nov. 3 ballot that would raise $3.6 million annually.

Voters last week overwhelmingly rejected a 5.95-mill levy, which would have raised

$3.6 million a year and cost the owner of a house valued at $100,000 about $182 a year.

Board members yesterday approved the first of two steps for putting a similar levy on the November ballot. Lucas County will calculate millage and taxpayer costs before the board votes on the second step for putting a levy on the ballot at a meeting tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The levy would keep the district, which has been hurt by state tax changes and declining revenues, in the black through the 2011-2012 school year.

District Superintendent Mike Zalar said the district's financial picture will worsen if a levy is not passed this year. Tax collections would begin next year if a levy passes in November.

"If we do not get another levy in this year, sometime in 2009, we lose another year of collection from the state," Mr. Zalar said. "That puts us further behind."

If a 5.95-mill emergency levy is not passed until next year, for example, the district would have to cut $1.5 million more in expenses for the 2010-2011 school year. It would take passage next year of a 9-mill levy - which would cost the owner of a

$100,000 house $276 a year - to avoid additional reductions, according to district estimates.

The school district's almost $40 million budget is balanced for the upcoming school year after expenses have been cut by $7 million in the last three years. Officials in recent months alone have cut $3.5 million in spending, including eliminating 32 teaching, 40 staff, and two administrative positions, or about 15 percent of the district's employees.

"There will be future reductions," Mr. Zalar said. "There will be additional cost savings in the district. But at the same time, we need more revenue."

Oregon resident Mike White told district officials last night they have not done enough to contain costs or let voters know about the levy request, saying he felt like they attempted to "slip" it through.

Last week, 3,605 residents voted against the levy, while 1,119 voted for it, unofficial results show.

"Hopefully you can see a more than 3-to-1 vote means you need to get more information out," Mr. White said.

Mr. Zalar, noting that last week's 30 percent voter turnout was high for an August election, said levy information was in the district newsletter and was covered by the media. It was a low-budget campaign, he said.

Officials will continue to look for ways to cut costs, but more money is needed to maintain the district's quality of education, board member Diane Karoly said.

"I think we need to give the voters another chance," she said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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