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Published: Wednesday, 4/12/2006

Rejection of levy could cut all extracurriculars

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If voters in the Springfield Local School District turn down a request for a 3.5-mill operating levy, all extracurricular activities, including sports and band, could be eliminated.

Other cost-cutting measures could be implemented too, including reductions in staff and bus transportation.

In response to parents asking board of education members for details on what programs would be at risk if the levy request is defeated, the board has provided a list.

That list, said board member Ev Harris, shouldn't be considered as a "threat" to scare residents into voting yes. Rather, he said, the likely cuts should be viewed as reality as a result of state financing and the ongoing public-school funding issue.

"The state has failed us miserably," said Mr. Harris. In the last year alone, Springfield has lost $900,000. "With the loss of personal property tax, we have no other choice than to cut things."

Even if voters approve the May 2 levy request, some cuts probably would occur.

"There will be some reductions," said Robert Moellenberg, treasurer of the district. "We are looking at some reductions to the budget even with passage of the levy. The final details still are being worked out."

Items under consideration include reducing staffing wherever possible because of enrollment changes and cutting back on field trips.

Mr. Harris noted that the district has been hit hard by escalating operating expenses, such as higher utility bills and fuel costs.

He said that he knows that personal households are feeling pinched by higher costs of gas and other items, but he doesn't know if people realize that schools are being hurt financially too.

Many schools, he said, are being forced to go to voters to ask for additional funds, in large part because of the phase-out of personal-property taxes businesses pay. "Everyone is on the ballot. There is no getting around it. Columbus has failed us. None of the school districts has the ability to make this up," he said.

A board member for 33 years, Mr. Harris said that at one time, 40 to 45 percent of the district's budget came from local dollars, and about 55 to 60 percent from the state. Now, it is about 85 percent local, and the state is down to 14 to 15 percent.

"We're frugal with everything here," Mr. Harris said, but the school district is facing deep cuts without the new levy money. If children - this country's greatest natural resource - fail to receive a great education, the country will be in sad shape, he said. "We cannot afford to bypass them and not give them the best education possible."

If the levy fails, other cost-cutting measures include closing all district buildings 30-minutes after the end of the school, reducing staff, and reducing secretarial, custodial, and food-service hours and supplies.

Eliminating all extracurricular activities, including sports, drama club, band, clubs, and organizations, would save $800,000 a year, the treasurer said.

Limiting the annual summer reading program to third-grade students saves $20,000; eliminating sixth-grade camp and after-school enrichment activities saves $60,000.

Reducing security staff at the middle and high schools, depending on the reduction, could save more than $85,000.

"It is critical that this pass," said Mr. Moellenberg. "Our funding has been lower than it was anticipated to be this year. The state has not been forthcoming with any additional funding of any sort. Looking down the road, it only gets worse instead of better. It's not a very rosy picture, unfortunately."

The list of cutbacks was drawn up, he said, to answer the most frequently asked question about the upcoming levy: "What happens if this doesn't pass?

If the levy is defeated, the issue would go before voters again in August, but school officials point out that that isn't the best time to be on the ballot. In the summer, during the peak time for vacations, it can be difficult to rally support for a school issue.

By the November election, it would be too late for a levy. "We have to have this in place before the school year begins," the treasurer said.

If approved, the levy would bring in about $2.5 million a year and would cost the owner of a $100,000, owner-occupied home $107 a year in taxes.

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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