October 21, 2014

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Lorain Schools to present worst-case scenario if tax fails

LORAIN — With a third of its staff and arts and athletic programs potentially on the chopping block if voters reject a 1.5 percent earned-income tax for Lorain Schools, interim Superintendent Ed Branham will give residents a worst-case scenario Wednesday.

Terry Traut teaches an interactive multimedia technology class at Lorain High School on Oct. 10. (CT photo by Chuck Humel.)

Branham and school board members will detail the cuts in a 7 p.m. forum at Gen. Johnnie Wilson Elementary School at 2700 Washington Ave. The continuous tax, known as Issue 14, would raise $8.2 million annually, helping the district deal with an $11.35 million projected deficit in the 2012-13 school year.

The tax would not affect capital gains, dividends or pensions, a selling point proponents have made to the elderly, who traditionally have opposed property tax levies. Voters have not approved a levy increase since 1992.

The tax would cost a resident of the school district earning $30,000 per year about $450 annually.

As Lorain’s tax base has dwindled, unemployment has risen, outpacing state and national rates. Lorain had a 10.2 percent unemployment rate in August compared with 8.8 percent for the rest of Ohio and the 9.1 percent nationwide.

Branham acknowledges that $450, which works out to $1.23 per day, is a sacrifice, but he said it’s worth it given the stakes.

“Is $450 worth having your school district go into fiscal emergency and go to minimum standards?” Branham asked. “The school district’s going to be decimated.”

Branham said board members will meet today behind closed doors to draw up a plan and will decide how much of the proposed cuts will involve personnel and how much will involve programs. Branham said the district — down from 1,256 employees in 2002 to 910 after 27 teacher layoffs in May — would have to cut approximately 120 teachers, as well as administrators and custodial staff, if Issue 14 fails. Early-college programs and extracurricular activities could also go, and a state takeover, meaning a loss of local control, would be almost certain.

“Anything that is not required by the state right now is on the cutting board,” said Branham, a former Lorain teacher and principal who has made levy passage his top priority since his Sept. 6 appointment. “It’s up to the administration and school board how they’re going to come up with $11.35 million.”

Hoping to avert a financial bloodbath, Branham has been rallying support for the tax at schools, before the City Council and at a candidates forum.

Members of the levy campaign committee called Citizens for Lorain Schools have sent out mailers, erected yard signs, held a steak dinner and planned a Nov. 5 rally at Lorain High School, according to Bambi Dillon, committee chairwoman. They’ve also pitched the tax before booster, community service and senior citizen groups.

Dillon, a longtime schools supporter who has worked on previous levy campaigns, said she understands why some might be reluctant to vote for the tax due to the hard times. Dillon doesn’t have children in Lorain Schools, but said voters need to recognize the importance of a strong school district both for students and Lorain’s health overall.

“A good school system is going to bring companies to this area,” she said. “If we want Lorain to thrive again, we’ve got to work together. We’ve got to make sure that our levy passes in order to keep our standards of education where they should be.”

Worst-case scenario

  • What: A presentation by the Lorain school board to the public on what cuts will be made if the proposed 1.5 percent earned-income tax known as Issue 14 is rejected by voters.
  • Where: Gen. Johnnie Wilson Elementary School, 2700 Washington Ave.
  • When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Why: To rally support for the continuous tax, which would raise $8.2 million annually and help board members deal with a projected $11.35 million deficit in the 2012-13 school year.

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