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Published: Sunday, 8/3/2008

Anthony Wayne, Lake ask voters for boost in funding

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Anthony Wayne Superintendent John Granger, far left, speaking to school board members, from left, Don Atkinson, Doug Zimmerman, Pam Gerhardinger, and Gary Roser, says the district has cut $2 million from its operating budget since 2006 and has left 29 positions vacant to save money. Anthony Wayne Superintendent John Granger, far left, speaking to school board members, from left, Don Atkinson, Doug Zimmerman, Pam Gerhardinger, and Gary Roser, says the district has cut $2 million from its operating budget since 2006 and has left 29 positions vacant to save money.
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What's the value of a good education? That's what many northwest Ohio school officials are asking local voters as they head to the polls Tuesday.

Anthony Wayne Local School District officials are pleading with voters to support the district's two levies, saying the district's reputation for quality education may be at stake.

Lake Local administrators will ask voters to replace a 6.5-mill, five-year operating levy with a 5.63-mill continuing operating levy, while several other districts are asking voters to replace or renovate their communities' aging school buildings with funding help from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

But some local residents say they just don't have additional money to give to their schools during a time of high gas prices, layoffs, a home foreclosure crisis, and an overall struggling economy.

"Where do people on a fixed income get the money from? I just don't have any more," said Steve Magnatta, a resident in the Anthony Wayne district who's been an outspoken critic of the district's levy attempts.

Mr. Magnatta said he was forced to take a company retirement in 2006 from his job as a truck driver.

"I still think a quality education can be achieved by spending less money," he said. "I cannot emphasize enough that we don't have the money. We just don't have it."

Even after voters defeated two previous levy requests in less than 18 months, Anthony Wayne Superintendent John Granger is hoping for a different outcome Tuesday with the district's attempt to pass two 3.3-mill levies that would generate $30 million, or $6 million annually. Both would run for five years.

One request is for a renewal of a levy approved in 2003 that brings in $3 million a year in taxes and expires at the end of 2008. The other is a new tax that would raise an additional $3 million annually.

If both issues are approved, taxpayers would continue to pay taxes on the renewal levy and they would see an increase in their taxes by $101 per year on a $100,000 home. A mill equals $1 per $1,000 of a property's assessed value.

Mr. Granger said the school district has cut $2 million from its operating budget since 2006 and has left 29 positions vacant to save money.

He said he understands that some people truly can't afford the increase, but he believes the majority could if they chose to do so.

"I understand fully well that there are people that have fallen on hard times and this is going to be difficult for them to pay," he said. "I think there's a distinct difference between the will to pay and saying, 'I can't pay.' I hope they understand that we can't continue to provide the same quality of education without some new revenue."

Mr. Granger said the school district has 17 vacant teaching positions from retirements and resignations, and if the new tax levy fails, those positions will have to be covered by internal transfers, which means fewer teachers and more students.

If both levies fail, the district must cut an additional $1.9 million from its budget, which would affect employment in every category.

"We'll do the best we can with what the community gives us, [but] they'll just have to understand the service won't be the same," he said. "We cannot continue to lose teachers and gain students and get everything taught ... If you truly value education, you gotta be for this levy."

In the Lake Local School District, a request for a 5.63-mill continuing operating levy would generate $1.3 million annually and replace its five-year, 6.5-mill levy.

It would not increase or decrease taxes, according to district Treasurer Jeff Carpenter.

If it is approved, about 85 percent of the annual revenue would go toward teacher and staff salaries as well as benefits, food service, and other expenses. The remaining 15 percent would cover day-to-day operations, including utilities, maintenance items, and diesel fuel for buses.

The Pike-Delta-York Local School District in Fulton County is one of several districts seeking to build or renovate at least one school building with the aid of a local levy as well as money from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. This marks the third time the Pike-Delta-York district has tried to pass such a tax issue.

The district has received a $15.5 million commitment from the state commission to build a new elementary school and make major renovations to Delta High School along with repairs to Delta Middle School.

About $10 million of the $25 million project must come from local taxpayers who will vote Tuesday on a single, three-part request for that funding: a 2.5-mill bond issue and a 1.8-mill levy, both for 28 years, and a state-required 0.5-mill, 23-year facilities maintenance levy.

If approved, it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $151 annually for the first 23 years and $135 for the remaining five years.

The district tried passing the levy in November, 2007, and March of this year but failed both times.

Superintendent Robin Rayfield said school administrators have listened to voters and that this levy is different than the previous ones.

"Our initial request that was defeated was a $12 million local share request," he said. "We eliminated $2 million of the request by eliminating everything that wasn't OSFC mandated."

Plans call for construction of a 63,000-square-foot, prekindergarten through fourth-grade building at a cost of $13 million. About $9 million in renovations would be made to the high school.

Two elementary school buildings, York and Delta, would be demolished. The Delta building, located in the village of Delta, dates to the 1930s, and the York school, situated in York Township and closed by the district this year, was built in the 1940s.

In Henry County, Liberty Center Local School District voters will decide whether to fund 40 percent of the more than $20.6 million cost of renovating and building new facilities for the district's kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

If they approve the combined 4.98-mill levy, the state commission would pay 60 percent of the costs exceeding $12.9 million. The local local taxpayers' share would be more than $7.6 million, which would be paid over 28 years.

The 4.98 mills includes 0.5 mills required by state law that would be collected over 23 years and used to repair and maintain the building.

The combined issue would cost $152.50 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Superintendent Jack Loudin said the district presently uses a sectioned kindergarten-through-12th-grade facility that hasn't been upgraded since the early 1990s, when a new gymnasium and cafeteria were added to the building's high school section.

Its oldest section was constructed in the 1950s, Mr. Loudin said.

In Hancock County, Liberty-Benton Local School District voters will be asked to approve a 5.97-mill levy to renovate and build new elementary and middle school facilities in the district's kindergarten through 12th-grade building.

Ballot information indicates the levy request is for 7 mills, but Ken Vaupel, executive chairman of the school district's levy committee, said the school board and administration have committed to actually collecting 5.97 mills.

"Some of the original scope of work included was able to be completed with existing general funds and was done in a more cost affordable manner," he said. "Those were upgrades at the high school."

The millage also includes a 0.5-mill levy required by state law which will be collected over 23 years for maintenance.

The 5.97 mills, worth more than $10.4 million over 28 years, would raise 50 percent of the more than $23.5 million cost to replace the building's elementary school section, which was built in 1921.

It also would renovate the building's middle school, which was built in 1959, according to Mr. Vaupel.

The levy would cost $183 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home.

"What that does is gives us 49 new classrooms and 25 newly renovated classrooms," Mr. Vaupel said. "More importantly, it gives us enhanced safety and security."

Arlington Local School District voters must decide on alevy of their own, worth more than $7.7 million, for the construction of a new kindergarten-through-12th-grade school building.

The oldest part of the Hancock County school district's K-12 building was constructed in 1923, and the newest section was built in 1992.

"We will not tear that portion down," school board President Mark Russell said, speaking of the new section. "We've actually attained an option to purchase 35 acres adjacent to the current facility."

The school facilities commission would pay for 66 percent of the project if Arlington voters approve the 7.6-mill levy in addition to a 0.5 percent income tax to pay the local share. The property tax levy would last 28 years, but the income tax levy would last indefinitely.

Both levies would appear on the ballot and combined would cost $232.75 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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