June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Black River Schools’ voters face pair of levies

Voters next month will decide the fate of two levies sought by the Black River Schools in hopes of staving off projected future deficits that have put the district in hot water with the state.

The district is seeking an additional 5.8 mills on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would raise about $1 million annually, and an additional 1.8 mills for permanent improvements, which would raise $331,750 a year.

Voters have rejected an additional three tax increases since August 2011, including an income tax and property tax that failed in November 2011.

In February 2011, the district received a fiscal caution letter from the state, which means the state now monitors Black River’s finances on a monthly basis.

The Black River Schools continue to trim costs and attempt to raise revenue in hopes of avoiding the possibility of a state takeover, according to Treasurer Connie Hange.

“We’re not quite at that point,” she said.

She said the district is seeking the permanent improvement levy in hopes of addressing needs such as replacing an old boiler system used to heat the high school, constructed in 1960.

In an attempt to bring the budget in line, School Board President Bruce Goff said the district has eliminated a number of positions as well as frozen teacher salaries and step increases for two years. Administrators haven’t gotten raises even longer, he said.

If the 5.8 mill emergency levy passes, Goff said the board will likely restore high school busing and eliminate a $10-a-day charge for all-day, every-day kindergarten as well as pay-to-participate fees.

“All of the extra-curricular fees will be eliminated,” he said.

School officials are cautiously optimistic voters will support one or both of the levies for the district, which is rated excellent in state report cards, according to Hange.

“The community very much supports the schools, but the economic situation is difficult when you have two wage earners who have lost their jobs or had cutbacks in hours,” she said.

The sprawling district with about 1,600 students is mainly in Medina County, in Homer Township, Spencer Township and the Village of Spencer. But the district also includes parts of Ashland and Lorain counties, including an area with 910 registered voters in Huntington Township.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.