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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

School issues get split decisions

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
From left, Lake Local school board member Kurt Johnson, superintendent Paul Orshoski, and Bill Tapley, parent of a Lake student and husband of a school employee, get word that voters rejected the fifth funding request in nine months. From left, Lake Local school board member Kurt Johnson, superintendent Paul Orshoski, and Bill Tapley, parent of a Lake student and husband of a school employee, get word that voters rejected the fifth funding request in nine months.
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Levy requests for most suburban school districts were defeated in yesterday's election, according to unofficial results, but Bowling Green City Schools gained voter approval of a replacement levy designed to help ensure a steady financial future.

Bowling Green, Lake Local Schools, and Eastwood Local Schools were attempting to avoid a budget deficit while the Genoa Area Local School District was seeking a levy to reinstate programs that were cut over the past two years.

Lake Local voters in Wood County and in a small portion of Ottawa County rejected a three-year, 8.75-mill levy that would have raised $2 million a year to head off a budget deficit that will start at $1.4 million next school year.

This is the fifth funding request voters have shot down in the last nine months. The other requests that were defeated included an 11-mill property tax in August, a 1.25 percent income tax in November, and a 0.5 percent income tax and an 8.75-mill property tax in February.

"The way I see it, the board could do what we're doing right now and get through January and run out of money, or they can implement some of the cuts that have been discussed and try to get through another year," Superintendent Paul Orshoski said last night.

After the two funding requests were rejected in February, the board made several budget cuts, including cutting school transportation to state minimums.

Because yesterday's request was denied, the board will most likely have to make even more drastic budget cuts for the next school year, which could include food service and sports and extracurricular activities except those required by law, said Board President Margene Akenberger.

Margaret Delvecchio votes at St. Jerome School in Walbridge on the proposed Lake Local levy.
Margaret Delvecchio votes at St. Jerome School in Walbridge on the proposed Lake Local levy.
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"There will probably be more cuts coming for the upcoming school year," she said. "I don't think anything's safe at this point except anything that's guarded by a contract. I'm just sad for our children and very disappointed in this community."

Genoa Area Local officials would have liked to reinstate high school busing and some of the $1.4 million in programs and personnel that have been cut over the last two years.

But because a new three-year, 4.9-mill operating levy request was denied by voters, officials from the Ottawa County district said they do not plan to return any programs that were cut and may increase fees and further limit bus transportation.

"Right now, I don't see where it's financially possible to bring back anything," Treasurer Mike Weis said last night. "Obviously we're disappointed, but we do have a plan to move forward and we'll continue moving forward."

The district only needed to pass a levy worth about 2.25 mills to keep status quo, but officials wanted the extra funds to also reopen elementary school libraries and to trim K-12 and pay-to-participate fees.

The district has asked voters to approve seven levies since 2000, and three of those have passed.

Eastwood Local officials were hoping to prevent a projected budget deficit, but voters narrowly defeated their five-year, 4.8-mill emergency operating levy request.

The district wanted to get the funding request approved now to prevent a budget deficit expected to start in 2007 because of dwindling carryover balances. The levy would have generated $878,000 a year for the Wood County school system.

"It was close," Superintendent Bill McFarland said. "The board will have to decide when they will go on the ballot again. We'll just have to work harder to convince more people that we need the money."

Though nothing is officially on the chopping block at this point, officials plan to make some reductions in elementary teaching positions and building spending because of decreased enrollment.

The last time the district had a levy request on the ballot for current expenses was in 2001. The district was able to pass the five-year, 8.9-mill levy that generates $1.5 million a year after it had been defeated twice earlier that year.

Voters in Bowling Green City Schools approved a five-year, 4.2-mill operating levy that will generate about $2.36 million a year to keep up with inflation, officials said. The request included the replacement of an existing 2.3-mill levy and the addition of 1.9 mills.

Blade staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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