June 27, 2016

Mostly sunny

Black River Schools ask for 7.5-mill emergency levy

SULLIVAN TWP. — Officials from Black River Schools are straightforward about what the failure of a 7.5-mill emergency levy on Aug. 2 will mean.

The district could be declared in fiscal emergency by the state. It’ll face a $750,000 deficit. Busing could be eliminated for the district’s 350 to 400 high school students. The pay-to-play costs will be hiked, and parents will have to pay for all-day kindergarten, they’ve said.

“We clearly get it that the economy is horrible at this point, but so many more parents will be affected by the levy if it fails,” said Leo Boes, who chairs the levy campaign.

The issue voters will face in the special election, which also will see a 5.9-mill Wadsworth Schools issue before voters in that district, is virtually unchanged from the one voters rejected by a 1,237 to 782 vote in May.

Black River Schools take in some 1,600 students from Medina, Lorain and Ashland counties.

The five-year issue would cost $236 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home. The levy is expected to generate $1.4 million annually. Its passage would stave off a $750,000 projected deficit by the end of the 2011-12 school year.

The district was placed on fiscal caution in February, which means state education officials keep an eye on the district’s expenses.

“It was strongly recommended by the state that we go on the August ballot,” Boes said. “If it fails this time, there is a high probability we will be back on the ballot in November. In fact, that may become a requirement by that point.”

Parents of the estimated 80 to 100 children expected to attend the district’s all-day kindergarten sessions would be forced to pay more than $1,000 a year should the levy fail. At present, the district charges no fees for the program, which has been offered for seven years, Boes said. Costs of the program, estimated at $295,000, are split 50-50 between the state and school district.

“It’s a revenue-neutral program in that it doesn’t cost the schools any money, and doesn’t make any money, either,” he said.

Defeat of the levy would also see pay-to-participate fees rise from $250 to $500 for one high school sport, and $250 for each additional sport participated in. Fees are expected to be $200 to $300 if the issue passes, Boes said.
Middle school student-athletes, who pay no fees now, would have to start anteing up $400 per sport should the levy go down next month.

Already, the district has eliminated 80-plus teachers, administrative, custodial, cafeteria and athletic personnel over the past four years.

“Our total staff is approximately 100 now, so we have been reduced by nearly half,” Boes said. “Classes have gone from the 20 to 22 range to 30-plus now.”

Personnel cuts have saved more than $4 million over the period, and teachers just agreed to freeze their salaries and step increases for two years under terms of a new contract approved by the school board Thursday night, Boes said.

The pact also calls for teachers to double their share of annual health,care costs from 5 percent to 10 percent, which is expected to save the district $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

Contact Steve Fogarty at (440) 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.