August 22, 2014

Elyria
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North Ridgeville levy fails; deeper staffing cuts planned

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Despite having put “a reasonable request” before voters, school officials came away from Tuesday’s primary election knowing they must make even deeper cuts in staffing after voters soundly rejected a 4.9-mill, 10-year emergency operating levy.

“This is a gut-wrenching defeat for our school district, and especially for our students,” Superintendent Craig Phillips said. “We have worked very hard to be fiscally responsible, but there is just no way we can overcome $1.8 million we project to lose in state funding (provided by federal stimulus money), and the 10 percent we look to lose in other state money.”

Unofficial returns from the Lorain County Board of Elections indicated the levy was defeated by a vote of 2,308 to 1,763.

The loss means the schools will put into effect a $2.2 million cost reduction play approved by the board of education in March. That plan, designed to keep the system solvent in the next few years, calls for the elimination of 28 staff positions including 13 teachers. Personnel costs comprise 87 percent of all expenses in the district. “There’s no way we can continue to offer the level of services we currently offer,” Phillips said of the additional cuts to be made. “We were hoping to avoid this.”

Those cuts follow the reduction of 24 jobs in 2010, including 10 teaching positions, as part of a $1.2 million budget-cutting plan.

The levy would have generated $3.5 million a year and averted the need for further layoffs and other cuts for the 4,126-student district.

Officials hope no further cuts will be needed, assuming state aid to the system isn’t reduced further, Phillips said as he thanked the levy committee for its hard work, and looked ahead to a special election in August when the schools will again try to win voter approval for the issue. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll bust our tails for August to convince voters the need is real and the investment is worth it.”

Noting that the “burden on property taxes is greater than ever before,” Phillips said “something has to change (in the way schools are funded) but until it does we have an obligation to our community to do our best to provide a quality education to our kids.”

Tuesday’s turnout was far lower than the approximately 6,900 voters who cast ballots in May 2010 and approved a 2.7-mill, 10-year levy generating $1.9 million a year. That victory provided the district the first new money it has had since 1995.

A total of 4,071 residents came to the polls Tuesday.

Analysis of voter data will be used to develop what Phillips termed “a better strategy” for August.