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Published: Wednesday, 10/8/2008

With teacher contract OK'd, Swanton focuses on levy

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SWANTON - "Let the healing begin," said Swanton Local Board of Education member Mike Wiederman upon casting his tie-breaking vote last week, effectively ending a tense negotiations period with the teachers' union that nearly escalated into a strike.

Now the district is facing its next challenge: passage of a 0.75 percent income tax levy Nov. 4. Will voters heed Mr. Wiederman's advice and put aside bad feelings to pass the issue?

For Anne Cook, 35, the mother of a Crestwood Elementary School kindergarten student, the dispute only increased her support for the district.

"It reinforced my desire to pass the levy," she said. "I'm kind of hoping that the momentum for the support of the teachers will carry over to support of the levy."

Some parents are worried, however, that the difficult negotiations process has stigmatized the district and that could be reflected in the ballot box during the upcoming election, Ms. Cook said. "There's a large concern that it may not pass because of this conflict," she said.

Ms. Cook said she had heard school board members Cindy Irmen and Jeff Michael were actively campaigning against the tax levy.

Nothing could be further from the truth, said Mr. Michael, who with Ms. Irmen opposed the two-year agreement that was ratified last week in a 3-2 vote.

"It was my idea to reduce it to make it as attractable as possible so it would pass," Mr. Michael said. "It gives the people in the community the change to actually vote to lower their taxes."

The ballot issue, if approved, would be a reduction of 0.5 percent from the 1.25 percent income tax the district currently collects. The 1.25 percent income tax does not expire until December 2009.

The board decided to bring the income tax levy forward during a presidential election to take advantage of high turnout, Mr. Michael said. But he said he is not in favor of returning to voters with the issue, should they turn it down.

Superintendent Paulette Baz said the revenue generated by the tax is essential to continue normal operations.

The tax currently collects about $2.2 million annually, or about 16 percent of the total budget. At a reduced rate it would generate about $1.4 million annually, or about 12 percent of the district's projected revenues for 2011, Ms. Baz said.

If the levy fails, the district could face a $2.4 million deficit by 2011, district Treasurer Cheryl Swisher said.


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