Earlier this year, the state squeezed local school districts when the legislature passed a new two-year budget that eliminated nearly $3 billion in funding for K-12 education.
In the first general election since the new budget, voters squeezed too.
Akron’s bid to pass a 5.5-mill levy fell short.
“I can’t recall the levy on the first time out on the ballot doing anywhere near this good,” said Akron school board vice president Jason Haas. “The community saw the need and appreciated the work that we’ve done over the last five years since the last time on the ballot, but this is still just a terrible economy so any tax increase is a tough sell.”
Akron was among 21 area districts that have tax issues on the ballot. Two-thirds of the local districts were asking for new money totaling almost $58 million a year.
Barberton took a much worse thumping in its attempt to pass a 8.74-mill levy.
“We are on task to reduce $3 million in expenses to start the next school year,” Barberton treasurer Ryan Pendleton said. He said the cuts will be too large to keep away from the classroom.
Stow-Munroe Falls school district passed its 6.57-mill levy, while voters in Woodridge defeated a 5.88-mill levy on Tuesday. Voters renewed taxes in Norton and Copley-Fairlawn schools.
Wadsworth was the only Medina County school district to pass a levy. Voters rejected an earned income tax in Medina and property tax levies in Buckeye and Cloverleaf.
Nordonia Hills, which was on the brink of fiscal emergency and possible state takeover, appeared to be passing its 6-mill levy late Tuesday.
Interim Superintendent Joe Clark said the win is a “testament to our community” and shows that voters understand “we give the best education in Summit County for the lowest tax rate.”
In Akron, the school district last passed new money in 2006 and stretched it a few years more than expected by closing buildings and cutting staff.
Akron spends money more efficiently in nonteaching areas of the budget than the four largest school systems in the state, according to a report this year by Ohio Education Matters, a public policy think tank. The district’s transportation coordinator, Kathy Kiehl, will speak to a statewide conference today in Columbus showcasing the state’s best examples of reducing costs in noninstructional areas of the school budget.
But expenses are outpacing revenue and officials estimate the district will be nearly $22 million in the hole by the end of the 2012-13 school year.
Passage of the levy wouldn’t have closed the gap, officials said. At least $27 million more in cuts would have been needed over the next three years. But now the budget will have to be slashed by at least $22 million a year for the next three years. Such deep cuts will reach into the classroom and could affect new initiatives such as the creation of a new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) high school scheduled to open next fall in the former Central-Hower High School, said Superintendent David James.
Increased class sizes and the closure of a high school could be considered.
“That’s a huge amount to cut out of the budget,” James said. “Nothing is etched in stone. We just have to look at our numbers and look at where we can cut and what we can cut and go from there.”
Like Nordonia Hills, the Buckeye district in Medina County is skating close to fiscal emergency and possible state takeover, but voters once again rejected the request for new money.
Buckeye already is in fiscal caution with a $1 million deficit in June, which balloons to $3 million the following year.
“We’re going to do the best we can to live within the means that our community provides us,” said Superintendent Brian Williams. “We’ve made an awful lot of cuts at this point and there’s not a lot of things left for us to cut.”
Buckeye is no stranger to election defeat.
“We haven’t passed a levy in 17 years,” Williams said. “We’ve been on 11 times in the last eight years.”
With the exception of a 5.6-mill levy in 2006, the 7.9-mill levy on Tuesday’s ballot was the smallest tax hike the district has tried to pass.
“We anticipate that we won’t be able to cut ourselves out of a $4 million deficit in the next year and a half,” Williams said. “We would expect that the state comes in, puts us in fiscal emergency and starts making, I guess, some of those decisions for us.”
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.