December 21, 2014

Medina
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Special Election: Voters weigh in Tuesday on more money for schools

Voters in the Highland and Buckeye local school districts will decide in Tuesday’s special election whether to approve additional operating money for their schools.

In Highland, this is district’s third levy request within a year. For Buckeye, this is the 11th attempt to receive new operating money in 16 years.

Buckeye

Buckeye Local School District officials are crossing their fingers for the 11th time.
If passed, the 6.8-mill emergency levy would bring in $2.6 million annually over five years and cost property owners about $214 a year per $100,000 of appraised valuation, according to the Medina County Auditor’s Office.

The Ohio Department of Education placed Buckeye on fiscal caution in April 2009, which means the state now looks over the district’s finances each month. Fiscal caution also means a district has a deficit equal to or greater than 2 percent of its revenue.
Superintendent Dennis Honkala said the district already has made significant budget cuts.

Last month, the board approved $440,000 worth of cuts, including 12 personnel jobs totaling $255,000. This is the second year in a row teachers have accepted a pay freeze and the third year for administrators.

Vocal opposition to the levy at public meetings has focused on employees taking pay freezes and not pay cuts.

If the levy passes, Honkala said the board has discussed using revenue to reduce pay-to-play fees from $600 a sport to $195 at the high school and from $450 to $100 per sport at the junior high. Instructional fees at the elementary school also could be lowered from $75 to $40.

If the levy fails, the board already has voted to put an income tax on the November ballot. Honkala said the board will decide Monday whether that tax would be based on earned or unearned income. Earned income is limited to salaries, wages and tips, whereas unearned income includes all other types of income, like disability, retirement and alimony.

“Hopefully it will be a non-issue,” Honkala said, explaining there would be no income tax request on the November ballot if the levy passes on Tuesday.

Because of a new state law that requires school districts to submit levy requests to the board of elections at least
90 days before an election, which would be Wednesday in this case for November, Buckeye had to come up with Plan B in case Tuesday’s levy fails.

If the August and November tax requests are denied, Honkala said he and the board will have to find more areas to cut.
“We already have 25-30 kids in the classrooms,” Honkala said. “If we eliminate teachers, those numbers just go up.”
He said the bulk of those cuts would affect the budget for the 2011-12 school year.

From advanced placement and elective classes to classroom teachers, Honkala said every cut made is going to start directly affecting students.

“It would be devastating,” Honkala said. “Getting into college now is so competitive. It’s not just based on grade-point average or ACT or SAT scores. Courses that they take, community service, et cetera. All those opportunities will be lost.”

Highland

The district’s 5.9-mill levy would cost property owners $185.85 per $100,000 of appraised valuation each year, according to the county auditor’s office. It would bring in $3.8 million a year for five years.

“It’s a critical time for us,” Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said. “It’s important that this pass.”

The district expects to reach deficit spending sometime between 2011 and 2012 if no new money comes in. The most recent financial forecast Highland filed with the state shows the district expects to have a $13 million deficit on June 30, 2014.
The last time the district received new operating money was in 1998. Since then, it’s built a high school and enrollment has increased by about 43 percent.

In the last year, the district has implemented cost-cutting measures that include staff layoffs, bus route consolidation and administration pay freezes. It also implemented pay-to-participate fees for sports and clubs.

The school board has said if the levy passes it will:

  • restore some previously eliminated bus stops;
  • decrease pay-to-participate fees;
  • reduce class sizes;
  • restore the eighth- and sixth-grades class trips.

The board hasn’t specified how much pay-to-participate fees would be reduced or how many bus stops would be added. Members also have said they will have to look at additional cuts if the levy does not pass, but have not yet outlined specifics.

In November, about 60 percent of voters rejected a 7.9-mill continuous levy. The margin of defeat was a little bit smaller for a 5.9-mill emergency levy in May, with about 51 percent of voters rejecting it.

Even if this attempt fails, it will be the final attempt at a levy by the district this year. A new state law moved up the filing deadline to place issues on the ballot, which would require districts to take action before the August voting day in order to put a levy on the November ballot.

Highland officials said they don’t plan to do so.

“We’re planning on giving it our all on Aug. 3,” Aukerman said last month. “We’re not really in the mindset to put something on in November.”

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com, and Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.