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Education

Staff layoffs called likely after defeat of Lake levy

2nd-straight loss sends message, officials say

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People line up for a tour of the new Lake High School building in Millbury, Ohio, last weekend.

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Layoffs are highly likely in the Lake Local Schools as a consequence of the levy defeat Tuesday at district polling places, Tim Krugh, president of the board of education, said Wednesday.

Mr. Krugh and Jim Witt, Lake's superintendent of schools, said austerity plans have yet to be developed and will be the result of careful deliberation that is likely to begin with a school board discussion next week.

"We're going to step back," Mr. Witt said. "We're going to take our time, while continuing to try to do what's right by our kids. … It doesn't have to be in a hurry. We don't have to make those decisions tomorrow."

But Mr. Krugh also said the 4.75-mill operating levy's second- straight defeat -- by about 250 votes out of just more than 4,000 cast, according to unofficial results -- is a clear mandate for spending cuts, especially in light of the school board's recent triumph in getting a $25.5 million replacement built for its tornado-ravaged high school without any need for local funding.

The board president said any significant spending cuts will require personnel cuts because 85 percent of the district's budget goes to teachers and staff.

Lake taxpayers "just don't seem to be willing to recognize the need for operating funds," Mr. Krugh said. And even if voters were to approve a levy during 2012, that "doesn't do us much good" for the next 12 months, he said, because collection wouldn't start until 2013.

Lake wasn't the only school board in Toledo's eastern suburbs to taste Election Day tax defeat.

In the Woodmore district in Sandusky and Ottawa counties, voters turned down a 37-year, 6.95-mill bond levy intended to raise the $19.5 million local share of a $26.5 million school construction program.

In nearby Genoa, voters narrowly rejected a 1.6-mill, continuing capital-improvements levy intended to replace two levies with no net increase in taxes.

Dennis Mock, the Genoa superintendent, said he suspected some voters merely saw the replacement of a 1.35-mill levy with a permanent, 1.6-mill tax but overlooked the school board's resolution to cancel a 1.8-mill tax as well if the new levy passed.

Others, he said, may have been reluctant to replace time-limited taxes with a "continuing" one, although the motivation behind the school board's request was to eliminate the "voter fatigue" associated with repeated levy requests.

Mr. Mock said that if the counting of provisional ballots doesn't reverse his district's levy defeat, the school board will have all of next year to decide what to do next. One of the two current levies expires at the end of 2012.

Woodmore's school board lacks that time luxury. Superintendent John Fernbaugh said the board has only until Dec. 8 to vote to put another levy request on the March primary ballot, and that could be its last shot at keeping the $7.02 million Ohio School Facilities Commission grant, which expires Aug. 1.

"We need to find a little time to talk to our voters," Mr. Fernbaugh said, suggesting the school board's Nov. 22 meeting could be a forum for such a discussion.

Among the levy resistance, the superintendent said, were voters who insist the school district should renovate its elementary school rather than replace it. The school board has taken the position that the state grant cannot be used for a renovation and that such work would extend the usefulness of the building, which was constructed in 1923, for only a decade or so, he said.

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

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