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Busing, sports fees and class size on table if Copley-Fairlawn schools levy fails

By John Published: July 28, 2010
Ohio State Patrol Trooper Joel Armstrong (left) with the vehicle inspection team, inspects a Copley Fairlawn school bus on Tuesday. Busing for high school students will be eliminated in the district if voters do not approve a new levy in the special election Aug 3. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer


Copley-Fairlawn schools will eliminate high school busing, impose fees to play sports and increase class size at elementary schools if the district cannot pass a new property tax in the Aug. 3 special election.

Copley-Fairlawn is among seven school districts in the area on the ballot.

The others — Norton, Rootstown, Buckeye, Highland, Wooster and Southeast (Wayne County) — failed to pass issues in the May primary.

Copley's 6.9-mill levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home, who already pays about $913 a year in school-related taxes, an additional $211 a year. It would increase total school-related taxes by about 23 percent.

Although the district has cut about $5 million over the past five years, it still faces a nearly $3 million deficit in the 2011-12 school year.

The teachers' union recently agreed to a freeze on base pay — but not on increases for years of service and advanced degrees — in their new one-year contract.

Copley-Fairlawn received the state's highest ranking on last year's report card — the equivalent of an ''A+''

''We did not impact teacher-student contact time with those reductions,'' said incoming Superintendent Brian Poe. ''And with those reductions, we moved from 'Excellent' to 'Excellent with Distinction.' So we were able to save a tremendous amount of money, able to extend the time that when we needed to come back for a levy and still move our test scores up.''

Voters last approved a new tax for Copley's day-to-day operations in 2002: a 5.9-mill levy that raises $4.1 million a year. The levy has not kept up with increases in enrollment and expenses, school officials said.

The state considers the Cop


ley-Fairlawn district a ''very high income/very low poverty'' district, which means local taxpayers are responsible for almost all of the district's annual budget of about $30 million.

The state contributes only about $1.1 million a year after transfers for charter schools and other deductions. That is the lowest per-pupil state revenue payment among Summit County's 17 districts.

Passing a new levy will not add programming, just maintain what the district currently offers for its approximately 3,300 students.

''We're not a district that asks for money unless we need it,'' Poe said.

If the issue fails, the district has planned immediate budget measures to save $1.5 million, including a $250 per-student per-sport fee along with other fees for extracurricular high school and middle school activities.

If it were to fail again in November, the district would bump the sports fee up to $600 for the 2011-2012 school year and reduce offerings in foreign languages, vocational programs and industrial technology, Poe said.

The district also would lay off as many as 29 teachers.

The following year, the district would lay off more employees to reach state minimum standards and eliminate busing for elementary and middle school students who live within two miles of the district, the state minimum. The district now buses students who live a mile or more away.

Last chance in Norton

While Copley-Fairlawn most likely would try again in November if its issue fails next week, August is the last chance for Norton voters to grab state money for a school construction project.

Norton wants to pass a $27.5 million, 37-year bond issue for construction of a new high school southeast of the intersection of Greenwich and Medina Line roads, as well as demolition of two aged elementary schools, and other projects.

This is a combined issue with a 2-mill additional permanent improvement levy that would generate about $615,000 a year and satisfy a state requirement that districts set aside money to maintain new buildings.

Passage would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $140 more per year and would generate 62 percent of the cost to build the high school. The state would pick up the remainder.

The bond issue is identical to the issue voters rejected in May, which was scaled down from the issue that failed last November.

The district has not decided what it will do if the issue is again defeated, Norton schools Treasurer Stephanie Hagenbush said. ''That's when we'll take that step back and see what we have to address.''

Highland school district in Medina County will try again to pass a 5.9-mill operating levy that would raise about $3.8 million a year for five years, or about 15 percent of the district's operating budget.

The emergency levy, which would raise the same amount each year, would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 more annually.

An identical levy narrowly lost in the May primary after paper absentee ballots, which were counted last, broke overwhelmingly against passage.

Other area school districts on the ballot are:

• Buckeye (Medina County), a 6.8-mill additional, five-year emergency operating levy that would raise about $2.6 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $208 annually.

• Rootstown (Portage County), a 5.96-mill, additional five-year emergency operating levy that would raise about $1 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $183 a year.

• Southeast (Wayne County), a 7-mill additional, five-year emergency operating levy that would raise about $1.8 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $214 annually.

• Wooster (Wayne County), a 6.5-mill additional permanent operating levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $199 a year.

Voters who live in the Orrville school district will be asked to approve a 0.95-mill levy for the Orrville Public Library that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $29 a year.


Beacon Journal staff writer Katie Byard contributed to this report. 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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