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Published: 5/1/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Maumee, Sylvania schools say levies vital to quality education

BY DAVID PATCH AND JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
The Maumee district is asking voters to approve a 5.9-mill levy Tuesday to offset steep cuts in state funding. The Maumee district is asking voters to approve a 5.9-mill levy Tuesday to offset steep cuts in state funding.
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Two of suburban Toledo’s largest school districts have levy requests on special election ballots Tuesday, and leaders in both Sylvania and Maumee say the stakes are high.

Calling its voters back to the polls just two years after they approved a 3.9-mill levy, the Maumee Board of Education says it needs additional funds to counteract the effects of falling property values and steep cuts in state education funding.

The 5.9-mill levy the board has placed before Maumee voters is estimated to produce $2.7 million in annual revenue, money Superintendent Gregory Smith said is vital “to continue offering the level of services and programs we are providing for our students.” Without it, he said, district officials face “devastating choices” to balance the budget.

Maumee’s proposed levy’s estimated annual bill to the owner of a $100,000 home is $181.

The Sylvania school board, meanwhile, is asking its district’s voters to approve a 4.9-mill levy that was rejected by 1,628 votes, out of 22,248 ballots cast, in November. Having imposed two rounds of spending cuts, school officials say they have no choice but to keep asking for a new tax to preserve their district’s educational programs.

“Sylvania voters will decide what type of school district they want for students and our community,” Brad Rieger, Sylvania’s superintendent, wrote last month about the vote.

A new levy, Mr. Rieger wrote, “will stabilize Sylvania schools’ financial position and preserve the excellence that the district is known for around the state,” while failure “will bring deeper reductions in programs and services that lower the quality of students’ educational experience and negatively impact the Sylvania community’s overall appeal to families and businesses.”

Among items on Sylvania’s fiscal chopping block without the $7.1 million the levy would generate are all funding for athletics, clubs, and other student activities such as theatrical productions and student publications, high school transportation, and elective and specialized courses.

If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 in annual tax. One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Both Maumee and Sylvania districts have cut spending in recent years.

Since 2003, the Maumee school board has trimmed its budget by $3.8 million, eliminating 46 jobs along the way. Spending cuts in just the last two years total $1.3 million, and the board expects to pare another $500,000 before the 2011-12 school year starts, regardless of the levy results.

Claire Parlette, foreground, and other students at Sylvania Southview rehearse for a production of ‘Footloose.’ School officials say theater productions and other activities
such as student publications would be eliminated if Tuesday’s 4.9-mill levy is rejected. Claire Parlette, foreground, and other students at Sylvania Southview rehearse for a production of ‘Footloose.’ School officials say theater productions and other activities such as student publications would be eliminated if Tuesday’s 4.9-mill levy is rejected.
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Among the Maumee cuts is the closing of Union Elementary School, the district’s oldest building in downtown Maumee, as part of a plan to reconfigure elementary-level education in light of declining enrollment.

Although none of its schools has been closed, Sylvania’s school board has had to slice even deeper into its budget. The $10 million it has cut from current and anticipated spending includes the full-time equivalent of 120 positions — jobs that will be gone even if Tuesday’s levy request passes.

The Sylvania job-cut numbers include positions vacated by retirements and resignations, including dozens of teachers and staff members who early this year accepted an incentive offer to retire. District teachers, support staff, and administrators also agreed to $1.4 million in wage concessions, primarily by forgoing “step” raises and longevity bonuses many were to receive during the 2011-12 school year.

Sylvania officials so far have not proposed closing any schools. Three years ago, district voters approved a 2.89-mill bond levy that provided for replacement of three elementary schools and renovations at the other four plus Sylvania’s two high schools and the older two of its three junior highs.

Some critics have suggested the district cancel the replacement of Central Elementary School and use those funds to narrow its budget gap, but school officials note that it is illegal to use bond-levy proceeds for operating expenses.

Instead, Mr. Rieger predicts having to cut an additional 50 to 60 jobs if the levy fails.

Education funding cuts advanced by the Kasich administration to tackle Ohio’s budget woes are expected to cost Sylvania schools $3.8 million next school year and $4.7 million in 2012-13. Maumee expects its state support to fall by $1.3 million next year.

Maumee’s Mr. Smith said that if the levy were to fail, he would recommend to the school board that the request be resubmitted to voters this year.

Unless the school board were to act quickly, that would be in November, because Wednesday is the filing deadline for the Aug. 2 special-election ballot.

“I really believe the Maumee community really supports and values quality education and historically has supported the students in our community,” Mr. Smith said. “For that, we’re very thankful.”

At the same time, he said, a defeat Tuesday could trigger more budget cuts before the start of the coming school year, potentially affecting transportation, extracurricular activities, athletics, and off-hours availability of school facilities.

“I think the board would have to seriously look at all expenditures and probably make some tough decisions before next school year. We would have to look at additional staff reductions,” the Maumee superintendent said. “We really feel that going any further would be devastating for the kids.”

Without further revenue increases or spending cuts, the Maumee district will be $1.2 million into the red when the 2011-12 school year ends, Treasurer Paul Brotzki said. The deficit would worsen to $4 million the following year and snowball from there, he said.

Sylvania faces comparable red ink in upcoming years without more revenue or deep spending cuts. And those will be both school districts’ options, because state law does not allow school districts to spend beyond their means.

Vicki Donovan-Lyle, president of Sylvania’s school board, said that should the levy proposal fail, a decision to go back to voters again this year would hinge on the defeat’s magnitude. But she’s hopeful that will be a moot question, citing the depth of discussions she has had with Sylvanians about the education budget.

“It’s the only issue on the ballot,” so conversations have been very focused, Mrs. Lyle said. “People are asking very appropriate questions.”

She said she and her colleagues respect that many voters are “tax weary” and face budget stress of their own, but the board is obligated to look out for local children’s educational welfare.

“We’re in a really precarious position,” Mrs. Lyle said. “All you can do is be hopeful and believe that the message is out. We’ve stretched the last levy seven years, when we told the voters we wouldn’t be back for three.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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