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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2007

Gas prices help scuttle area school taxes; defeats tied to economy

BY JOE VARDON AND ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The higher gas prices go they re hovering around $3 for a gallon for unleaded regular in Toledo the harder school levies fall at the polls.

That s according to a host of suburban school district administrators and an economist, a day after numerous school funding issues were rejected by area voters.

Just one of eight suburban levies or bond issues up for a vote during Tuesday s special election was approved, according to unofficial results representing a 12.5 percent passage rate.

Voters in the Swanton, Northwood, Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Otsego, and Genoa school districts all rejected funding requests.

Betty Orendorff of Perrysburg Township says seniors are tired of footing the bills. Betty Orendorff of Perrysburg Township says seniors are tired of footing the bills.
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One of two 7.9-mill, five-year operating levy replacements for Rossford schools by 18 votes passed, but voters turned down the other by 16 votes.

It s a dismal percentage when compared to the state s statistics as a whole from Tuesday, as more than 54 percent of the 164 school funding issues on the ballot passed, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Suburban Michigan schools fared no better than their Ohio counterparts requests for sinking funds were rejected by Bedford and Mason voters but information regarding how those Michigan districts compared to the rest of the state was unavailable.

Ken Mayland, the president of Cleveland-area economic research firm ClearView Economics LLC who is considered one of Ohio s top economists, said he wasn t surprised by the school-funding flops.

He said skyrocketing gas prices, a slumping real estate market, and the money troubles facing the Big 3 domestic auto makers have made residents in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana nervous about their own finances.

Toledo is kind of the nexus of those three areas, Mr. Mayland said. This is not a fortuitous time to ask for a tax increase.

John Granger, superintendent of Anthony Wayne schools, said his district s 4.5-mill, five-year emergency operating levy was defeated by 153 votes, in part, because property taxes are something residents can actually control.

Mr. Granger said people can t control rising gas prices or other events that wound their wallets, but they can freeze their property taxes through a simple no vote.

Tim Nichter of Haskins says he backed Otsego s levy because of the kids. Tim Nichter of Haskins says he backed Otsego s levy because of the kids.
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Right now, school levies are about the one thing they can say no to, and I think you ll see more and more of it, Mr. Granger said.

A distaste in paying additional taxes is why Betty Orendorff, 73, of Perrysburg Township said she was one of the 2,829 voters to reject Perrysburg schools 2.29-mill, 28-year bond issue for building improvements.

She said other factors such as higher gas prices may have contributed to the 530-vote defeat, but she insisted higher taxes were on her mind when she cast her no vote.

Senior citizens are so tired of having to pay, pay, pay, and it s got to stop somewhere, Ms. Orendorff said.

Perrysburg schools Superintendent Michael Cline said most school administrators and school boards recognize the uneasy nature of the economy, but he also said school districts funding needs aren t going away.

Mr. Cline said Perrysburg s school board will have to decide whether to go to the ballot again. Perrysburg voters rejected a similar bond issue in November.

The Rossford district is still out $3 million after Tuesday s vote, and it was one of the districts with a successful request.

Together, Rossford s two levies represented $6 million, or 30 percent, of the district s operating budget.

Like her counterparts in other school districts, Rossford Superintendent Luci Gernot said she anticipates the school board will put the failed levy on the ballot again later this year.

Waterville s Don Brandi, with his wife, Lois, says Anthony Wayne must live within its means.
Waterville s Don Brandi, with his wife, Lois, says Anthony Wayne must live within its means.
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We still have the opportunity to go on the ballot one more time, she said. I am very encouraged.

If the area s various school boards are to reintroduce failed bond issues to voters on upcoming ballots, Mr. Mayland suggested they do it in November rather than August.

Mr. Mayland said he expects the economy to gradually improve but advised school boards to refrain from putting funding issues on the ballot for as long as possible.

If they can, they should even delay it until next year, Mr. Mayland said.

Of course, no amount of time could change some voters minds.

Don Brandi of Waterville said he voted against Anthony Wayne s levy because he felt the school district should be able to operate within its revenue structure.

That s what everybody else does, said Mr. Brandi, who added there was nothing the district could ve done to get him to change his vote.

There are others, like Tim Nichter of Haskins, Ohio, who view a yes vote as a vote for school students.

Mr. Nichter said he voted for Otsego Local s 5-mill, five-year operating levy despite not having any children in the school system.

Otsego s levy was defeated by 902 votes .

It just felt like the right thing to do, Mr. Nichter said.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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