Voters reject 5 school issues
School leaders in Jackson-Milton, Lakeview, Girard, Sebring and East Liverpool are wondering what to do next.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
The superintendent of Jackson-Milton school district said the failure to approve a bond issue for a new high school and middle school complex could mean the end of the district.
Superintendent Warne Palmer said he and the school board will discuss what can be done now that a 5.5-mill bond issue to build a new high school and middle school complex failed for the second time this year. The complex on Mahoning Avenue is 92 years old.
Among the possibilities, Palmer said, is eliminating the Jackson-Milton school district and merging with a nearby district.
The districts surrounding Jackson-Milton are Austintown, Lordstown, Newton Falls, Western Reserve and Southeast, which is in Portage County.
Jackson-Milton school officials have held informal discussions with two of those districts, said Palmer, who declined to identify which ones.
"It's a serious step, but there's people in the community who want it," he said. "They're of the mind-set to let the school district go. This vote brings that issue to a head."
Across the board
It wasn't a good night for the five Mahoning Valley school districts with tax issues on Tuesday's special election ballot. They all failed, most by large margins.
The Jackson-Milton bond issue received support from 39 percent of those who voted Tuesday.
A 10.2-mill bond issue to build a new high school and middle school complex as well as a new elementary school failed in May 2002.
The district opted to take out the elementary school from the bond issue, only to see it fail twice this year -- Tuesday and on the May 3 primary ballot.
The district wants to build the high school and middle school complex on 101 acres it bought two years ago near the elementary school. The district would receive about $4 million from the state in addition to the $12.42 million it would borrow for the complex if it can get voters to approve the bond issue, Palmer said.
Other options, he said, include another ballot initiative or borrowing money to fix the complex. But the second option isn't at the top of Palmer's list because it wouldn't be a smart financial move to spend millions to repair an old building.
"It wouldn't be a good use of taxpayer dollars," he said.
Jackson-Milton was among three Valley districts to see voters reject similar tax measures twice this year.
Those living in the Lakeview school district rejected a 3.5-mill, five-year additional levy for $948,000 annually in emergency requirements by two votes in May.
They were more emphatic Tuesday with 55.5 percent of voters saying no to the levy.
It wasn't a good start for Robert Wilson, the district's superintendent since Monday.
"We were striving for educational excellence and we [didn't connect] with the community," he said. "We'll have to evaluate what to do next."
The district -- that takes in most of Cortland and Bazetta Township, and portions of Mecca and Warren townships -- wanted to pass the levy to stay out of deficit after the 2006-07 school year.
Voters in Girard soundly rejected a bond issue for the $5,441,000 local share of building a new junior-senior high school complex on the Mahoning County Club. The state would pay more than $21 million for the project.
The issue also included raising $1.6 million to maintain the school, and $4,559,000 to buy the 117-acre golf course. The state would not contribute any money toward those two parts of the tax issue. There was organized opposition to the project.
The issue received 32.8 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Superintendent Joseph Jeswald said the current junior-senior high school is 81 years old and it's life-span is quickly coming to an end.
"How much longer can you stay there?" he said. "The repairs become more extensive and expensive. We need to replace that building. We need to evaluate and keep all are options open."
The biggest loser of the five districts Tuesday was Sebring. A 0.75 percent income tax to raise $390,000 annually for five years received 31.8 percent support from voters.
Sebring, on the state's school fiscal watch, expects to be about $150,000 in deficit by the end of the 2006-07 school year, and probably be placed in state fiscal emergency.
"I'm disappointed for all the kids, but we'll go back to the drawing board and see what we can do," said Superintendent Howard Friend. "The deficit isn't going away."
Three previous attempts at traditional additional millage levies in the past two years failed.
In the past four years, the school district eliminated seven of its 62 teaching positions, saving over $1 million in the process, Friend said.
"I don't know what else we can cut," he said.
Residents of the East Liverpool school district rejected a 12.4-mill, five-year additional levy to raise $2,024,000 annually for the second time this year.
But there is a small bright spot for the district, currently in state fiscal emergency.
The levy received 40.5 percent of the vote in May. It received 47.3 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Outgoing Superintendent Douglas Hiscox was at a loss for words when told that the levy failed.
"I honestly don't know what else we could have done," he said.