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Anthony Wayne voters wary of new taxes to help ease school squeeze

With enrollment continuing to increase and new state mandates such as all-day, everyday kindergarten, Anthony Wayne Local Schools are feeling the squeeze.

Classroom space is at a premium, but with the economy far from revived, residents aren't ready to OK a new tax to add building space. That sentiment came through loud and clear in the most recent gathering of a community focus group polled about school facilities.

"The results gave us information that we really weren't surprised about: While we see the need for facilities, now is probably not the time to ask the community for money," Pam Gerhardinger, vice president of the school board, said. "The economy is not helping our plight obviously and the fact that every surrounding - not just school district - but every community is facing money issues."

Results of the focus group survey posted on the school district's Web site show the majority of participants:

•Want to keep the high school near athletic facilities on Finzel Road.

•Support building a new junior high school for grades 6-8 on Bucher Road.

•Support converting Monclova, Waterville, and Whitehouse elementaries, which house grades K-4, to accommodate grades K-5, and convert Fallen Timbers Middle School, now housing grades 5 and 6, to a K-5 elementary.

•Do not want the district to purchase modular classrooms.

•Do not believe voters would support a bond issue to pay for a new school this year.

Superintendent John Granger, who planned to discuss the survey results Monday with the school board, said that despite the struggling economy and housing market, Anthony Wayne gained 45 students this school year.

Adding to its space crunch are impending "unfunded mandates" from the state - implementing all-day, everyday kindergarten by 2012 and gradually reducing class sizes for grades K-3.

Anthony Wayne is applying for a waiver of all-day, everyday kindergarten for the 2010-11 school year.

"I'm in favor of all-day, everyday if we had enough classrooms and enough money to hire staff," Mr. Granger said. "We failed four levies out here in the last four years and when you're failing levies, you don't add programs. It's going to take more money to go to all-day, everyday both for staff and facilities."

As part of sweeping budget cuts in the wake of its failed levies, Anthony Wayne implemented full-day, every-other-day kindergarten to eliminate midday transportation costs. Because of cuts in the teaching staff, class sizes became larger.

Mr. Granger said the opinions expressed in the focus group survey will be just one factor the school board considers as it moves forward with a plan for its facility needs.

"The board of education has to consider that as input as they make a decision, but the board also has to take a look at the needs of the district," he said. "The question is, do you want these improvements made so much that you're willing to pay for it?"

The focus group, with 48 elected officials, parents, and local business owners, was convened last year to gauge satisfaction with Anthony Wayne schools, their willingness to approve new school taxes, and their perception of the community's willingness to approve new taxes.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.

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