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Absentee votes sink Highland levy

By John Published: May 5, 2010

John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

Highland school district's dreams of passing a levy were dashed Tuesday night in exactly 42 minutes and 17 seconds.

That's the time it took Medina election officials to count paper absentee ballots after tabulating the electronic votes and posting the results online.

At 10:11 and 7 seconds, when 100 percent of the electronic votes were posted, the levy was passing by 56 votes.

''Certainly people were watching the results across the district, and people were very hopeful that that was true,'' Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said Wednesday. ''We just caution everyone that until the final count is in, we need to be careful.''

At 10:53 and 24 seconds, when the total including the absentee votes was posted and officially time-stamped, the levy had failed by 135 votes.

The absentee paper ballots skewed 64 percent against the levy.

Dawn Marzano, communications director for Highland, said she answered calls all morning Wednesday after the Akron Beacon Journal and the Plain Dealer reported the premature results showing a victory.

''We have fielded many calls here this morning, and it's unfortunate that I have to inform them that Highland did actually lose,'' Marzano said. ''It's so disappointing because it was such a slim margin.''

The Beacon Journal published the correct tally in its final edition Wednesday and the incorrect Highland result didn't appear on the newspaper's Web site.

The handful of Summit County voters in the Highland school district rejected the levy, 28-18.

Highland had hoped to pass a 5.9-mill operating levy that would have raised $4 million a year for five years, or about 15 percent of the district's operating budget. The emergency levy, which would have raised the same amount each year, would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 more annually.

The district is facing a $5.1 million deficit in the 2011-12 school year and a $13 million deficit the following school year.

Highland heads into next year with 20 fewer teachers and 20 fewer support staffers because of layoffs. Those cuts will save $2.4 million. The district also consolidated bus stops and began charging fees to participate in sports.

The board will have to decide by May 14 whether the district should try again in the August special election. A 7.9-mill levy failed in November with about 60 percent voting no. Again, the absentee no vote was substantial.

This time around, the campaign obtained lists of people who had filed for an absentee ballot and tried to call them or send them a mailing.

''They reached out individually to each one of those voters to make a personal contact,'' Aukerman said.

The response was positive from the absentee voters they called, giving Highland hope going into Election Day, she said.

''We were somewhat surprised with the [absentee] results,'' Aukerman said. ''We were hoping to obviously narrow the gap there and bring us closer to a win.''


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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