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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Swanton schools OK income tax to fend off deficit

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Supporters cheer the narrow passage of a 1.25 percent income tax to support the Swanton Local School District. Supporters cheer the narrow passage of a 1.25 percent income tax to support the Swanton Local School District.
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Swanton Local School District, strapped for cash and faced with a projected $1.2 million deficit, appeared to narrowly win voter approval last night for an income tax, according to incomplete results.

It joins Otsego Local School District and a handful of other suburban Toledo districts where voters unofficially passed tax levies. There were 217 school districts statewide - one-third of the state s 612 districts - asking taxpayers for additional money.

With a heavy voter turnout in the Swanton district, which includes portions of Fulton and Lucas counties, the requested 1.25 percent income tax was approved by just 154 votes, according to unofficial tallies. That appears to be enough votes to pass the levy, even though some absentee ballots and all walk-in ballots had yet to be counted last night. It was the district s fourth try in 10 months for taxpayer money; voters rejected smaller funding requests in May, August, and November.

“We did it! We did it! We did it!” supporters screamed from the Swanton Board of Education office on Main Street when the vote tallies rolled in.

“We re pleased and relieved,” Superintendent Kevin McQuade said. “We re still not out of the woods yet, but it s a big step back toward fiscal recovery.”

The income tax will generate $2.2 million a year, allowing the board to operate in the black by 2007, school officials said.

School board president Bill Green said beginning today, administrators and teachers can go back to the business of educating children.

Without the new tax, school officials feared that the district would drop into fiscal emergency or would be forced to seek a loan from the state. In the fall, the district was placed on fiscal caution, the first of three levels of financial problems on the state s list of districts in trouble.

The superintendent said he expects there will continue to be some state oversight of the district s finances, but the apparent victory would be the beginning of recovery.

Opponents of the new tax were disappointed by the outcome, “but it doesn t change what we have been doing,” said Jeff Michael, of No Swanton Tax. Opponents said they plan to attend school board meetings to keep a close eye on spending and they will be looking for ways the district can raise proficiency test scores.

School officials cut $1.6 million from the budget last year. More than 20 teaching positions were eliminated, and an 11th-hour campaign by area residents that raised $107,000 in less than a week saved extracurricular activities for the winter and spring.

The five-year, 1.25 percent tax will cost $390 a year for residents whose adjusted gross income after deductions on Ohio tax forms is $32,354, which is the median income in the school district.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.



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