June 29, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Black River passes first levy in 16 years

SULLVAN TWP. — For the first time in 16 years, voters in the Black River school district approved new operating money — barely.

Voters in Tuesday’s primary passed the 8.7-mill, five-year emergency levy by a razor-thin 52-vote margin, 1,280 to 1,228, according to unofficial results from the Medina County Board of Elections.

Kaitlyn Kish, 18, a senior, and Niki Minnich, 16, a sophomore, both on Black River High School's cheerleading squad, performed Sunday at a tailgating rally to support the 8.7-mill levy on Tuesday's ballot. Both said they wanted to see future Black River students have the same opportunities they have at the school. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said the levy means the district will not have to make steep cuts next school year.

“I’ve been getting text messages and phone calls all evening from people all over the district,” she said.

The five-year levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $266.44 a year, and bring in $1.6 million in new operating funds for the district.

The roughly 120-square-mile district serves students in Medina, Lorain and Ashland counties.

The levy won in Medina County, 653 to 516 votes, and in Lorain County, 231 to 223. It failed in Ashland County, 396 to 489.

Wyckoff said the levy’s approval would prevent a list of planned cuts from taking effect, but won’t provide for much extra.

“We’re going to stay at status quo,” she said. “We didn’t go on the ballot to really add anything. If it hadn’t passed, it would be unbelievably horrible.”

If the levy had failed, there would have been no money for improvements to buildings, all Advanced Placement, industrial arts and wood courses would have been eliminated and any teacher who retires this year would not have been replaced and pay to participate would have increased from $375 to $400 per sport, all in the 2013-14 school year.

Now, some money will be set aside for building improvements, Wyckoff said.

Voters had not approved a levy providing additional operating money for the district since 1997.

School officials had even discussed cutting the school day to the state minimum of 5½ hours, limiting lunch, and cutting physical education, art and music for elementary students and reducing it for older students if levy failures had continued.

The state auditor placed the district in “fiscal caution” in 2011, the third worst category for districts in financial distress.

Since 2004, the district has cut about $5.3 million from its budget, along with 84 staff positions.

Levy campaign co-chair Melissa Sas, a district parent, said she was “ecstatic” the levy won.

“So many endless hours of work has been put in by so many people in order to pass this levy,” she said. “Black River has proven that they are a community that knows how to pull together and knows how to work together to accomplish goals.”

Sas said there were some tense incidents at the polls.

She said a handful of people in Sullivan, in Ashland County, reported being challenged by poll workers about their clothing.

One woman was wearing a Black River football shirt, and another man was asked to remove a Black River baseball cap, Sas said. Another person, she said, was wearing a shirt that said “JB Firestone Invitational 5K,” with no reference to Black River, and was asked to reverse it.

“People complied,” she said. “They thought it was a bit much, and weren’t too happy about it. They did what needed to be done to get their vote in.”

Sas also said two men were asked to take off Black River baseball caps in Huntington Township in Lorain County. Another man was told his child, who was wearing a Black River football sweatshirt, had to wait outside.

Ohio election law does not allow campaign materials within 100 feet of polling places.

“I realize you can’t wear campaigning clothes,” she said. “But I think they took it a bit far. I almost feel like they were harassing our voters.”

Sas said she has filed a verbal complaint with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office and was told someone would follow up with her.

Bonnie Manos, chairwoman of the Ashland County Board of Elections, said no one was turned away from the polls.

She said people were wearing shirts that said, “We love BR,” that had a campaign disclosure label.

She said one poll worker at a Sullivan precinct reported asking people to reverse their shirts. Manos said she did not know how many people were asked to reverse their shirts.

Manos said the poll worker said: “At no time did we refuse anyone the right to vote. Most people were cooperative and had no problem reversing the shirts.”

Lorain County election officials did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday night.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.