Levy committee: It’s an income problem, not spending

By kristine gill


School officials say voters must pass the district’s May levy to avoid more cuts and layoffs like the ones announced last month.

The school board announced 25 layoffs and the discontinuation of busing for high school students effective Sept. 1 as the first phase of cuts. Superintendent Dante Zambrini will announce phase two of possible cuts should the May levy fail at the March 16 board meeting.

A committee of more than 30 parents and teacher volunteers met Thursday to start campaigning. The school board has also scheduled four town-hall meetings for March and April to inform voters.

“Before, it was kind of generalizations,” said Laura Ward, a parent on the committee with two current students. “But people who live in Canfield support the schools and if they know that a ‘no’ vote on the levy will result in these specific cuts at least they can make an educated vote. We don’t want to put fear into people; we want them to know the consequences.”

Her husband, Bob Ward, is also a committee member and agreed the cuts have raised more questions among voters.

“It’s made people ask the obvious question: Where has the money gone?” he said. “The misperception is that it’s a spending problem but it’s an income problem ... Canfield is one of the most thrifty districts in the state.”

Staff cuts will save an estimated $1.2 million and will be permanent.

The district is asking for a 6.8-mill operating levy that would bring in $3.8 million annually, for five years, along with the renewal of a 1.6-mill emergency renewal levy that would sustain the district through fiscal year 2015. Levies of the same millage failed in November.

“School boards do not wish to put levies on the ballot, but that’s our only source of income,” Zambrini said, adding that most districts raise the millage after a levy fails to make up for the money it didn’t bring in during the fiscal year.

“To bring back 25 positions, we’d have to go above [6.8 mills],” he said.

Zambrini emphasized that the district will have paid off a $13 million bond issue, passed in 1998 for building renovation, by 2013 that will reduce what voters pay in taxes should the May levy pass. Residents would pay taxes on a 6.8-mill levy the first year and essentially a 4.3-mill levy beginning in 2013.

“The levy gives the community and opportunity to invest in their school,” school board President Brian Kesner said.

The district warned of cuts in campaign materials mailed to 10,000 Canfield voters in the fall, saying: “The reality is that without new revenue, the debt will grow, resulting in severe cuts in classroom instruction, educational programs and extracurricular activities.”

“We need to be very clear about what the effect is if it fails and what the effect is on your taxes if it passes,” she said. “We need to be more specific about what’s next.”

Layoffs still came as a shock to parents who filled the board room after cuts were announced. Zambrini said two staffers have announced retirement and a third resigned since the cuts and those changes will affect which positions are cut.

The board will announce the positions March 16, but acknowledged they could continue to change up until Sept. 1.

Committee members will meet until voting day and are accepting volunteers. The group will focus on college-age residents and more communication. Questions will be answered through an interactive feature on www.canfieldlevy.info.

Committee member Kathy Scheel said being more specific about future cuts will help this levy pass.

“It’s a moving target,” business manager Richard Archer said.

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