CANFIELD SCHOOLS Board prepares for levy battle

District residents can discuss the levy with school officials at a public forum March 14.
CANFIELD -- The school board now has less than three months to change the minds of district residents such as Rich Colonna.
Colonna, of Dartmouth Drive, told the board Wednesday night that he doesn't support the 6.9-mill, 5-year operations levy that will appear on the ballot here in May.
He blamed the board for the district's financial troubles, and said it would be unfair to ask district residents to pay additional taxes for schools.
"You are the reason we have no money," Colonna said.
When asked what the board could do to change the minds of Colonna and other district residents, Superintendent Doug Hiscox responded, "It's basically a hard road."
Here's the situation: On Wednesday, the board approved a resolution to place the levy on the May ballot. School officials said that without the levy, the district could be in debt next year.
State officials would then take control of district finances until the district was no longer in debt.
Both Hiscox and board member Charles Eddy Jr. said they had spoken to several local residents who didn't support the levy. Eddy asked the rest of the board if they thought it was wise to place the levy on the ballot when so few residents seemed to support it.
"Maybe the community has already made up their mind, maybe the building's already made up their mind," he said. "If the intent is to shoot down a levy to make a point, why put it on?"
Board President Mark Squicquero answered that he felt the board truly wouldn't know the opinion of district residents until the vote on the levy is held.
"The only means we have of assessing that is placing an issue on the ballot," he said.
What's planned: Hiscox said he plans on having a meeting in the next few weeks for local residents interested in organizing the levy campaign. A public forum also will be held March 14 so residents can discuss the levy and other district issues. The forum will be at Western Reserve United Methodist Church, Canfield Road.
Colonna, meanwhile, said he has received several calls from residents who said they are opposed to the levy. He added that he felt the school board could have saved money by not buying land last year and by charging employees more for insurance costs.
The board purchased 27 acres of land on the outskirts of Canfield in July. Squicquero said the land is needed for growth of the district.
Hiscox also has said that even if the land were not purchased, the board still would not have enough money to save the district from debt.
Expenses: Board projections show that an additional $1.3 million is needed to pay district expenses during the first six months of 2003. The levy would produce about $3 million each year.
District operations are paid for with state money and a 6.9-mill, five-year operating levy that was passed in 1994 and renewed in 1999. About $2.2 million is collected through the levy each year.
The district has a $19.5 million general fund budget this year.
Hiscox has noted that during the last year, the board has been faced with insurance costs that increased by about $500,000. The board had expected insurance costs to increase by $250,000. Hiscox said employees pay about 5 percent of the insurance costs.

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