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Published: Tuesday, 5/19/2009

Hesitation on putting school tax on ballot


DELTA, Ohio - The Pike-Delta-York school board last week took the first step toward putting an emergency levy on the Aug. 4 special-election ballot, but several board members indicated reluctance to seal the deal when they reconvene tomorrow morning.

Joyce Kinsman, the district's treasurer, said the deadline for submitting levy resolutions to the Fulton County Board of Election is 5 p.m. tomorrow. With time also needed between first and second resolutions to get certification from the county auditor, several board members agreed to pass the first of the two despite reservations about the $900,000, five-year tax proposal.

"I don't see any harm in keeping it alive for a second meeting," said Jim Friess, who earlier in the meeting had voiced doubt about submitting an August levy proposal before contract talks with the district's teachers' union have been settled.

"I'm not in favor of rushing anything," board member Matt Mattin said before also voting in favor of the initial levy resolution. He said the board should cut spending before submitting any more tax requests to voters, to demonstrate Pike-Delta-York's financial straits.

The discussion followed by one week the resounding defeat of a 0.5-percent earned-income tax proposal on the P-D-Y ballot May 5. That tax was expected to generate about $900,000 annually, reducing a $1.6 million deficit forecast for the district next school year to about $500,000.

District officials have repeatedly blamed the deficit on the Ohio legislature's 2006 vote to phase out the tangible-property tax assessed against business and industrial equipment, which has cost Pike-Delta-York several million dollars in annual revenue.

The school board had decided to reduce hours for five teachers, leave unfilled a position to be vacated by retirement, cut two paraprofessional positions, and eliminate the equivalent of 2 3/4 teachers from its contracted operations with the Fulton County Educational Service Center.

Combined with a reduced travel budget for field trips and athletics, those cuts are expected to save between $500,000 and $600,000, without which the projected 2009-2010 deficit would exceed $2 million. A five-year forecast Ms. Kinsman presented shows deficits above $2 million annually after next school year if no changes are made.

And without further cuts or increased revenue, the treasurer said, the district's reserve funds will be exhausted by mid-2011.

Superintendent of Schools Robin Rayfield had said earlier that if the district doesn't secure additional revenue by year's end, he'll recommend a further $800,000 in cuts for 2010-11 that would include faculty layoffs, extra-curricular activities cuts, and reduced bus service.

"We know we need the money," Mr. Rayfield said during the meeting, "but where's our best chance to get the money?"

"We'll be able to manage this first wave of cuts, but the next wave, I don't think I'll be able to say that," said Martin Friess, the Pike-Delta-York High School principal.

State law allows income-tax votes only on general-election ballots, so the soonest the school board could try again for such a tax is Nov. 3. Property levies may be submitted for special elections.

School board President Don Fogle said it has been suggested to him that the board conduct a survey of what sort of tax district residents would prefer. But Mr. Fogle said it would make more sense to just put an emergency levy on the upcoming ballot, since that would probably cost less than hiring a pollster.

"The ultimate survey is the ballot," he said.

The special board meeting tomorrow is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. in the district office at 504 Fernwood St., Delta.

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