October 31, 2014

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Lorain Schools levy passes; voters say they see its importance even though they are struggling

LORAIN — Chrystal Grasso’s children don’t attend Lorain City Schools, but she said she voted for the renewal levy that passed Tuesday.

“I went to Lorain City Schools and it’s getting worse and worse,” Grasso, 36, said after she voted at the SS. Cyril & Methodius Church. “We have the qualified teachers to do it (better). We just don’t have the money.”

The levy passed by an approximately 62 percent to 38 percent margin, according to unofficial numbers from the Lorain County Elections Board. The five-year, 23.85-mill renewal levy was originally approved in 1992 and collects about $9.6 million. It generates 12.89 mills in revenue. The levy would cost owners of a $100,000 home about $396.

Grasso and few other voters at SS. Cyril said they probably wouldn’t have voted for the levy if it included a tax increase. Already hurting before the worst recession since the Great Depression, Lorain was devastated by the economic freefall and has yet to recover making levies a hard sell.

“Nobody’s working in this area, for the most part,” said Louie Dineff, a 54-year-old unemployed steel worker who said he voted for the levy. “We’re struggling to keep our house.”

Dineff and voter Ruth George, 63, said their vote for the levy was more in support of students than an endorsement of how the school district is being run. “I’m not sure that everything is being done to reduce administrative costs that could be done,” George said.

However, Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said the district is being fiscally prudent and administrators appreciate the voters’ support.

“We thank the community for this vote of confidence for our children and our community,” she said. “We’re going to work really, really hard to do what we can internally to shore up the budget and align it and balance it.”

While a levy defeat would’ve meant dealing with an approximately $10.3 million deficit, the district is hardly flush with cash. Facing an approximately $8 million deficit, Atkinson said the district would seek a levy increase in the long term, but would probably have to layoff staff in the short term.

She said administrators would begin crunching numbers today Wednesday and make recommendations at a special Board of Education meeting at 5 p.m. Monday.

“In all fairness to employees, if there needs to be reductions, they need to be informed first,” Atkinson said. “We will not discuss that publicly until we’ve had that conversation with the board.”

While layoffs are still likely, Bambi Dillon was pleased with the vote. Dillon, a volunteer coordinator with Citizens for Lorain Schools, helped rally support for the levy. Dillon said the group raised about $47,000 and had about 200 volunteers who made calls, knocked on doors and spoke before local groups.

“The community stepped up to the plate,” she said. “They know how important education is.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.