The Akron school board voted Monday to pull a 5.9-mill levy from the March 6 ballot and pin all its hopes on passing a levy in the November presidential election.
Superintendent David James proposed removing the levy from the ballot as the first order of new business in the first meeting of the year, mainly because a March 6 election leaves officials little time to organize an effective campaign.
''Early voting starts three weeks from tomorrow,'' said Jason Haas, who was elected board president earlier in the evening.
When the board put the issue on the ballot in a special meeting Dec. 5, the state legislature hadn't yet selected a primary election date. Haas said the board's best guess was a late April or May primary, which would have given it more time to raise money and craft a winning message.
The staff already is busy working on a plan to cut $22 million from the budget and prepare for contract negotiations with the district's six unions. Mounting a levy campaign on top of that would have been too many balls to juggle at the same time, Haas said.
Skipping March means the district must win in November or wait until 2014 to collect on any levy that passes in 2013.
''It does create a pressure cooker,'' Haas said. ''You feel like this is your one shot.''
Waiting for November gives the campaign more time to prepare and raise money. It also gives the district a chance to demonstrate its willingness to make significant cuts and negotiate wages and benefits that reflect the district's financial constraints.
Negotiations probably will begin in mid- to late February. Significant cuts may be rolled out sooner.
''We could potentially be ready as early as the next board meeting with some proposals for the board to consider,'' James said. ''Being able to get negotiations out of the way and getting our budget cuts out of the way will be helpful for us.''
Board member Lisa Mansfield, elected to be vice president on Monday, emphasized that pulling the levy from the March ballot doesn't mean that the district's finances have improved.
''Our situation hasn't changed,'' Mansfield said. ''The cuts are still going to be made.''
The two newest board members, Tim Miller and Patrick Bravo, began their terms in a year that will include difficult budget cuts, contract negotiations and a must-win levy campaign in November.
''These new members are going to be tested right away,'' Haas said. ''There's not going to be much time for them to get up to speed.''
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.