SCHOOL DISTRICT Board OKs 3.9-mill levy for Nov. ballot

The board has learned how to agree to disagree, one board member says.
AUSTINTOWN -- While township residents are considering how they'll vote on a five-year, 3.9-mill levy for the school district in November, the school board says it will be working to cut spending and increase district revenue.
The board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve the second and final resolution needed to place the levy on the November ballot. The first resolution was approved 4-1 at a special meeting Thursday morning.
Board member Michael Creatore cast the lone dissenting vote on both resolutions.
On Tuesday, the board also voted unanimously to hold two public work sessions -- one this month, one next month -- to discuss ways to cut spending and increase revenue. The dates, times and locations have yet to be determined.
Board member Brad Gessner also proposed creating a committee of board members and school administrators to discuss how the district can cut spending and increase revenue without affecting employee salary or benefits or the quality of education offered to students.
"The alternative is to tell kids, 'We can't teach you,' and that's not a stand I'll take," Gessner said.
Tuesday's meeting was attended by 70 to 80 people, most of whom were district employees.
Clearing a deficit
If approved by voters, the levy would allow the district to collect an additional $2 million annually. That would wipe out the $1 million to $1.5 million deficit it is expected to have at the end of the 2004-05 school year, schools Treasurer Barbara Kliner said.
Because of the projected deficit, the Ohio Department of Education is expected to declare that the district is in a state of "fiscal caution" this fall. The school board will then have to submit a plan to the state showing how it can eliminate the deficit without having voters approve a new levy.
Creatore said he voted against putting the levy on the ballot after receiving calls from several residents who said they want the board to cut its $36 million budget before asking for more tax money. A five-year, 5.9-mill levy for the district failed by about 2,900 votes last November.
Three residents at Tuesday's meeting criticized the board for placing the 3.9-mill levy on the ballot this November. Jean Rider of New Road noted that she and her husband have had to make cuts in their budgets because of tough economic times.
"You need to run this school system like we run our homes," Rider told the board. "You don't go by our rules, you go by your rules."
At the beginning of the meeting, Gessner and Creatore listed on a blackboard some issues the board is expected discuss when considering how to increase revenue and cut spending. The issues were allowing open enrollment; examining insurance costs; re-hiring teachers who have previously retired at a reduced salary; requiring students to pay to participate in school activities; cutting transportation; and putting off paying bills to increase a carry-over of funds.
Both Creatore and Gessner noted that they don't think the district should cut transportation, and Creatore added that he is worried that allowing open enrollment would increase the burden on the district's teachers and affect the district's test scores.
Creatore and Gessner ended their presentation by shaking hands. The two had argued contentiously at the board meeting last Thursday morning, when Gessner pressed Creatore for proposals for the district's financial future.
Gessner said in the wake of that meeting, he and Creatore met several times to create the list of issues the board is expected to discuss during the work sessions.

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