April 23, 2014

Mostly clear

Black River superintendent: Levy must pass to stay ‘excellent’

SULLIVAN — The last time Black River voters passed a property tax levy to pump new money into education was in 1997.

It was the same year many of the students in the state-rated “excellent” high school were being born. But if voters do not pass an emergency levy May 7, Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said it will be those 16-year-old students and many more who will feel the lasting effects.

In the 16 years since voters passed a levy, Wyckoff said the district has done what it could in hard times.

“We made do. We made it work,” she said. “Until the state took money away from us, we have been able to use the money we received to educate kids to excellence.”

Making due in a district small in student numbers, but not in size — Wyckoff estimated Black River serves a 120-square-mile area that includes parts of Medina, Ashland and Lorain counties — has meant cuts and more cuts. Roughly 83 staff positions have been eliminated, parents are paying so their students can participate in sports and extracurricular activities, and high school busing has long been eliminated.

“That was a hard one for our district because the only way to get to the high school is by car or walking on the side of the road. This is more of a rural area. There are no sidewalks,” Wyckoff said.

But even with those reductions, Wyckoff said the time is now for voters to pass a levy. The district, which the state placed on fiscal caution in 2011, quickly is running out of money.

“We’re at a point where we have cut so much out of our curriculum, maintenance, food services, administration — every level — that we are limited on where we can go at this point,” she said. “If we don’t pass this one, it’s going to be brutal.’’

The consequence of another levy failure — this is the seventh time Black River has been on the ballot since 2010 — is spelled out on the district’s website.

At the start of the 2013-14 school year, there will be no money for improvements to buildings, all advanced placement and industrial arts and wood courses will be eliminated, any teacher who retires this year will not be replaced, and pay to participate will increase to $400 per casino online sport.

“We are not a big district so when you’re talking about cutting a program, you are cutting a huge part out of a child’s life,” Wyckoff said. “But we are at a point where we don’t have anywhere left to go.”

There is even talk of reducing the school day to the state minimum of 5½ hours, limiting lunch offerings and cutting physical education, art and music for elementary students and reducing it for older students.

Treasurer Connie Hange said the 8.75-mill emergency property tax levy would add $1.6 million annually to the budget for five years. It will cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $266.44 a year.

“This is going to allow us to continue operating under our current levels,” Hange said. “It won’t allow us to add anything, but it will keep the district out of a deficit until at least 2017.”

Hange said Black River employees have done a lot to help alleviate the financial situation. Wyckoff hasn’t taken a pay raise in four years. For the last three years, all other school administrators have not taken a raise.

The teachers took pay freezes for two years, while at the same time increasing their personal health insurance premium contributions an additional 10 percent. The support staff in the district did the same, while increasing their personal health care contributions by 5 percent.

“I know there are people in our district who wonder why this happened all of a sudden, but the previous treasurer predicted we would be out of money in 2006,” Hange said. “It was 2010 before we got to the point where we didn’t have anything else insignificant to cut because we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to ask our taxpayers for more money.”

Contact reporter Lisa Roberson at (440) 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

  • Stepp and board must go

    Hey and Board take not of what a school district that cares about students has done. No pay raises for the super and administrators due to their budget issues. They must really care. Hmmmm, they have not passed a levy for 16 years and have been able to maintain their excellent rating, while our glorious school board says it will loose its rating if a levy is not passed now. How can that be? The money is going to the grubbing , Robinson, Vlcek, Grenfell and the other members. All must resign now, Vote hell no on any levies by these goofballs. Take your iPads, with retina displays, and Mickey Mouse ears and leave…bye, bye.

  • Richard Leiby

    Well make do with what you have. Staff administration try cutting your over paid wages would be a great start. Better yet superintendent and full board need to resign. Then just maybe a levy can pass. You are still wasting tax payers money through it out the window. Time for change from top down. Time for state take over. Change way schools are funded. Go to sales tax income tax that way everyone pays not just property owners. Supreme court not once but twice have ruled it unconstitutional to fund through property taxed. So do your job and get it changed. VOTE NO UNTIL BOARD & Superintendent resign and funding is changed. Stop wasting our tax money!!!!?

  • Getem

    BR is not rated excellent. The Super needs to get off of MSN and get out some. All the uocoming “possible” cuts? More scare tactics. Nothing is going to change with the passage. Oh, raises will be in order. Maybe they can even come up with a line of bs to convince us that’s “for the kids” somehow. Don’t give raises. I hear rumor of a strike if not. Let them. No. Forget it. The board they have are cowards to do anything anyway. Tnhat’s why BR is a mess in the first place. No honesty. n

  • getem

    Levy must pass to stay excellent? I thought we lost that awhile back? Maybe the super should get off of MSN, and her rear end and see what’s going on in her schools. Nah, too much to ask for from her.