Students fear they will lose their competitive edge.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
COLUMBIANA -- Taxpayers want specifics. Students want more than a minimum education.
Those were sentiments expressed by Columbiana village school district residents and students at a public forum Wednesday on the district's proposed 1 percent income tax.
Schools Superintendent Patricia Hura said if the income tax is not approved, some staff cuts would be made for the 2003 school year, including all contracts for athletic coaches and activities advisers.
High school bus service and bus service for elementary and middle school pupils who live less than a mile from the schools would be discontinued, she said.
Students said they were concerned not only about losing activities such as athletics, band, prom and yearbook, but also about courses that give seniors a jump start in earning college credits.
One parent complained that school officials and staff were using scare tactics, overloading students with information about the consequences if the tax issue fails.
One student said that if advanced classes are discontinued, students who have already taken some of those courses would be stuck in lower classes studying course work they've already learned.
Brian Brown, a senior, reminded the adults that the students will ultimately be held accountable if their performance slips because of cuts.
"You're pointing fingers at the board, but it will be the parents pointing fingers at us," he said. "The students are the ones who will have to deal with your decisions."
Brown said after the meeting he didn't believe that teachers and administrators were trying to scare or threaten students with talk of cutting courses and activities.
"It's not threats; it's reality," Brown said.
Mark Fitzsimmons, a senior, said cuts would affect students' ability to compete.
"Many of the students are applying to very selective universities," he said. "Electives and extracurriculars are an advantage for us."
Wants to understand
One resident asked the board to give information in simple language everyone can understand: How does the tax work? How much will it cost us?
More than one resident asked school officials to give specific rather than general information. One suggested, for example, that school officials compare maintenance costs for new and old buses rather than simply stating that some buses are old and need to be replaced.
Another resident said voters defeated a recent permanent improvement levy request three times because there was insufficient and conflicting information.
School Treasurer Lori Posey said that because of increased costs for items such as salaries, insurance and utilities, the district spent more money than was available last year. Posey said there will be a $600,000 deficit even after the income tax is in place the first year.
School officials would then find ways to reduce costs without affecting programs or services, Posey said. She said the board could save money when eligible employees take retirement, and by frugal spending.
The district's permanent improvement levy, generating about $123,000 annually, expired in December 2001, and collection will cease in November. An emergency operating levy expires in December, and collection would continue through 2003.
Board members noted, however, that they would vote to suspend collection of the operating levy revenue, about $800,000, if the income tax passes Nov. 5 and collections begin in January.
Posey said the income tax would continue unless voters repeal it. The state calculates the income tax would generate about $1.2 million annually.