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Akron schools will seek a slightly larger levy this spring

By admin Published: December 6, 2011

The Akron school board authorized the district to put a 5.9-mill levy on the March primary ballot Monday morning.

But even if the levy passes, the district may have to shed as many as 224 jobs next year to balance its books.

The request is a bit higher than the 5.5-mill levy that narrowly failed in November, but it would bring in the same amount of money, about $14 million a year.

The November request was based on an estimate that 1 mill in property tax would collect $2.56 million a year for the district. The county auditor has since determined that 1 mill would collect $2.44 million, according to school Treasurer Jack Pierson.

The higher millage means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $181 a year in school taxes instead of $168 more a year.

Without new money, the district will have to cut about $22 million from the budget next year to avoid potential state oversight.

If the levy passes, the district could get by with $16 million of cuts next year, followed by $14 million the next year and $7 million for each of the following two years.

However, by loading the heaviest reductions into the first year, the immediate savings would mean smaller cuts in successive years.

If the district passed the levy and cut $22 million next year, it would need to trim another $10 million the next year and $5 million the year after that, Pierson said.

It's the difference between cutting $37 million in three years instead of $44 million over four years.

Superintendent David James said that $22 million in cuts represent about a 7 percent reduction in the operating budget. But many parts of the budget are fixed costs, so $14 million of the cuts will have to come out of wages and benefits through the elimination of an estimated 224 jobs. The district has about 3,000 employees.

Union contracts expire at the end of the school year.

''We're up in June, so we'll have those conversations after the first of the year for sure,'' James said.

Board President the Rev. Curtis T. Walker Sr. said the community will have to understand that the cuts probably will be permanent, even if the levy passes.

''A lot of these things won't return,'' Walker said.

''None of them will come back and you're going to have to cut more,'' Pierson replied.

Board member James Hardy said a 5.9-mill levy is close to what the district proposed in November to find a balance of increased taxes and budget cuts to close the gap.

''It's in keeping with what we originally put together,'' Hardy said.

The board meets again today at noon to confirm the request.

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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