November 25, 2014

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Lorain Schools may try levy again in May

LORAIN — Coming off another stinging levy defeat, Lorain’s school board decided to not put another levy on the ballot until May.

Dimacchia

Dimacchia

No board member seemed enthusi­astic about putting the levy on the February ballot.

Board member Timothy Williams said the district and board needed to engage the community and get feed­back.

Board member Jim Smith agreed.

“Before we go out there again, we need to know what we’re telling (vot­ers) that’s making them unhappy, and what we’re not telling them that’s making them unhappy,” he said. The board also discussed the possi­bility of massive cuts, including laying off more than 100 employees, as well as cuts in programs such as arts and athletics.

Williams urged the board to not make the cuts until the end of the school year so students enrolled in courses such as arts and technology won’t suffer.

Even then, he said, the cuts are “huge.”

“The damage done by these cuts may be irreparable,” he said. “Maybe delaying them will help.”

Board president Tony Dimacchia agreed.

“Until the state comes up with a new way of funding, we have to work with the hand we’re dealt,” he said. “And we have to do that in a way that helps kids as much as possible. Delaying allows us to not disrupt classes this school year.”

Don’t count on any help from the state, Smith said.

“(Governor-elect John Kasich) is a big proponent of charter schools,” Smith said. “That does not bode well for us in the future.”

Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said the district would begin the procedure for layoffs early in 2011, so that if job cuts do come, employees affected can be prepared.

There may also be contract negotiations with teachers and other collective bargaining units to find a way to cut costs.

Whatever the board decided, treasurer Dale Weber said, time was of the essence. If the district does not get any new money, it will be in an estimated $10 million deficit by the end of the 2011-12 school year.

That means the district, which is already under fiscal caution from the state department of education, could fall into fiscal watch or go straight into fiscal emergency. And the prospect of the state taking over the district still looms.

“Something has to be done,” Weber said. “We’re at the edge of a financial cliff.”

Weber urged the board to decide on levy matters as soon as possible. A renewal levy is also coming. “If the renewal doesn’t pass, turn off the lights and close the doors,” Smith said. He urged the district to come up with ways to bring children back to Lorain Schools from open enrollment in other districts and from charter schools.

Smith voted against Atkinson’s personnel recommendations, saying the day after a levy defeat was not a good time to be spending money. Atkinson, Dimacchia and board member Paul Biber pointed out that the personnel matters, which were largely special education supplemental positions as well as coaching and club supplemental positions, already were allocated in this year’s budget and were not additional expenditures. The recommendations passed. The unofficial vote count from the Lorain County Board of Elections was 7,629 against the levy, 6,017 for.

The only ward in which the levy won was Ward 5 in southern Lorain, 618 to 545.

Wards 2 and 3, along the lake and the near west side, were close in defeat. Ward 2 defeated the levy 754 to 736. The levy lost in Ward 3, just south of downtown and west of Broadway, 796-775.

Ward 1, on the far eastern side of the city, voted overwhelmingly against the levy, 1,249 to 841. Ward 8, in the southwestern part of the city, also was strongly against the levy, 1,327 to 836. Ward 7, along the lake, defeated the levy, 1,189 to 940.

Ward 6, in the far southeastern part of the city, defeated the levy 1,085 to 724. Ward 4, in the far southern part of the city, defeated the levy 684-547.

Contact Melissa Hebert at 329-7129 or mhebert@chroniclet.com.