Board weighs levy options

Levies would bring an
additional $5 million to $7 million per year.



YOUNGSTOWN — In the aftermath of another levy defeat, school board members are looking at projections for a $44.7 million deficit and weighing their options for future appeals to voters.

Board members have been presented with two alternatives for the March primary election. The board could ask voters to approve a 9.5-mill levy — identical to the one turned down Nov. 6 — or increase the request to 12.68 mills.

They will discuss the district’s options at a retreat scheduled for Tuesday. Final figures must be submitted to the Mahoning County Board of Elections by Dec. 20 in order to meet election deadlines for tax issues to appear on the March ballot, said Treasurer Carolyn Funk.

Superintendent Wendy Webb said the district is operating under the advisement of the state’s Fiscal Planning and Supervision Commission. The commission has overseen the district’s finances since city schools were declared to be in a state of fiscal emergency in 2006.

Voters struck down Youngs-town’s proposal for the 9.5-mill levy by 58 percent. An identical levy was defeated by a larger majority in November 2006.

District spokesman Mike McNair said it is common for levies to fail several times before winning voter approval.

“Even if the voters have said ‘no,’ we can’t assume that they will always say ‘no,’” he said.

The board is trying to be conscious of the financial troubles facing many district residents, McNair said. If increases can be avoided, they will. But doing without additional revenues is already exacerbating the district’s financial crisis, he said.

Board members were presented with a five-year financial forecast at Tuesday’s meeting, projecting a $44.7 million deficit by 2012.

A resolution authorizing the school district to present voters with a levy in excess of 10 mills was removed from the agenda at the board’s caucus session to allow more time for discussion.

The approval of a 9.5-mill levy would allow the district to collect an additional $5.2 million during its first year and $26.2 million over five years. This option, if approved, would shrink the district’s proposed deficit to $16.5 million by 2012.

A 12.68-mill levy would draw an additional $7 million during its first year and $35 million over five years, shrinking the projected 2012 deficit to $9.1 million.

The district also will be looking at additional staff cuts during the upcoming months, Webb said. The district has eliminated 250 jobs over the last two years.

“We will do what we have to do,” Webb said. “I was excited about the academic progress we were making. I feel like we’ve lost some of that momentum.”

Despite the disappointment of another failed levy, Webb said the district is looking at innovative ways to meet its pupils’ needs in the face of mounting financial crisis.

“As we struggle right now with resources and our funding, we have to look for every resource we can for our students,” she said. “We’re going to continue to stand for the children in Youngstown, Ohio.”

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