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HomeNewsLocalSouth
Published: 4/29/2009

Ballots hold bids for more tax dollars

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Plenty of area school districts are on the ballot May 5 asking for additional tax dollars, but Maumee City Schools and Otsego Local Schools are looking at the most dire consequences if voters say no, officials said.

Maumee, which is asking for a 3.9 mill, continuing operating levy, has said that if the levy fails, it will consider closing an elementary school, laying off more teachers and staff, and reducing bussing, among other cuts. Superintendent Greg Smith said those decisions will be made by the board of education.

"The board does not want to do any of these things because doing these things will start to dismantle an excellent school district," he said.

Mr. Smith points to data showing that of the four nearby school districts that received "excellent with distinction" ratings by the state, Maumee has the lowest amount of millage - lower than Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, and Sylvania, he said.

If approved, the Maumee levy would generate more than $1.9 million a year for a continuing period. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $119.44 a year.

Mr. Smith said the school district is losing between $4 million and $5 million annually because of Ohio's phase-out of tangible personal property tax. Its revenue stream also has been hurt by a freeze and pending reduction in state funding as well as the closure of some local businesses, he said.

Even if the new levy passes, he said, the district plans to slash $750,000 to $1 million from its budget, cuts that will come largely from attrition and other staff reductions.

Two administrators - the curriculum director and technology director - are retiring this year and won't be replaced, Mr. Smith said. Eight teachers and two librarians also were notified earlier this month that their jobs had been eliminated for next school year.

The proposed levy is 2 mills less than the one Maumee voters rejected in November. Mr. Smith said that after meeting with the public, the board decided to ask for less, even if it means returning to voters sooner.

"People have said in the past that we didn't give them enough information," he said. "We are going to give them all kinds of information, and I would just ask that people take the time to read the information, ask questions if they're still trying to decide what to do, and make an informed decision."

In Otsego, which includes the Wood County villages of Grand Rapids, Haskins, Tontogany, and Weston, voters will decide a 5-mill, five-year emergency operating levy intended to raise just under $1.1 million a year. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $153.13 a year.

If it fails, the board plans to close an elementary for next year and send all sixth graders to the junior high in Tontogany, among other cuts, officials said.

Although Otsego Superintendent Jim Garber had proposed closing either the Weston or Haskins elementary building , the school board told voters it would keep all three of Otsego's elementaries open next school year if the levy passes.

Mr. Garber said there are a number of other good reasons for taxpayers to vote yes.

"We've not had additional new money since 2002. We'll be cutting over 10 percent of our budget in about a 13-month period," he said. "I think we've done what we've been able to do, and it's time to step up to the plate and provide some new money for the schools to continue to operate."

The district cut about $900,000 from its budget last year and intends to cut another $600,000 this spring, Mr. Garber said.

In Bowling Green, voters are being asked to replace the district's current 0.5 percent income tax with a five-year, 1 percent income tax that would generate an additional $3 million a year.

Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said the district isn't looking to add staff or programs but wants to avoid having to cut them.

"What we're asking for right now is the opportunity to continue what we're doing, which is very good," he said. "This year, we passed 30 standards out of 30. We're rated as an excellent school district. It's a good place to get an education."

Mr. Caumartin said the district hasn't gotten any increase in state funding since 1998 and, like other districts, must contend with House Bill 920, which "doesn't allow for any growth from a property tax once its passed."

North Baltimore Local Schools are trying a second time to pass a bond issue and 0.25 percent income tax that would enable the district to renovate Powell Elementary and build a new middle and high school on 88 acres east of town on Rudolph Road.

The 7.57-mill bond issue would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $231.83 a year. The bond issue and income tax, which together would generate nearly $10 million over 28 years, would constitute the local share of the overall $22 million project. The Ohio Schools Facilities Commission would contribute $12.1 million.

The combined income tax and bond issue, which will be voted on as one question, failed in November. Superintendent Kyle Clark said he hopes voters see the value of having the state pay for nearly 60 percent of the project as well as the economic boost the construction project would bring.

"The best way to get through the tough times ... is simply to reinvest in yourself," he said. "Reinvesting in our community is going to save our community."

Also on the ballot, Springfield Local Schools are asking voters to renew its 1.35-mill, five-year permanent improvement levy. The levy generates $1.05 million a year for building repairs, school buses, technology, and textbooks, and costs the owner of a $100,000 home $38.36 a year.



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