September 22, 2014

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Teacher layoffs expected in Lorain after levy defeat

LORAIN — Bambi Dillon wondered who was going to tell supporters of Issue 14 that the 1.5 percent earned income tax levy had been defeated. In the end, the task fell to her.

“OK guys, we lost,” Dillon, head of the levy campaign committee known as Citizens for Lorain City Schools, said quietly to supporters. “It’s back to the drawing board.”

The continuous tax, which would’ve raised about $8.2 million annually, was defeated 6,365 to 5,672, or 53 percent to 47 percent. The tax was being counted on by Lorain Schools to help eliminate a projected $12 million deficit in the 2012-13 school year.

With the defeat, between 70 and 120 teachers will be laid off at the end of the school year, said interim Superintendent Ed Branham.

Arts, athletic and early college programs also are likely to be cut and administrators and custodial staff also face layoffs. The district is expected to go into fiscal emergency and be taken over by the state with an ensuing loss of local control.

Branham, appointed Sept. 6, said the abysmal economy, high unemployment and high food and gas prices worked against the tax, which would’ve cost workers earning $30,000 per year about $450 annually. The tax wouldn’t have affected capital gains, dividends, pensions or Social Security, a selling point with elderly voters who traditionally opposed school levies.

Voters have not approved a school levy increase since 1992.

“The cost of living is going up, and people can vote on this and they’re going to vote no,” Branham said. “I don’t know where else we go. School funding has been declared unconstitutional four times. I don’t know what the answer is.”

Branham also said apathy by some parents — an Oct. 26 briefing on the proposed cuts was sparsely attended — was a big factor. He also said there was lingering resentment about the $250,000 salary of former Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, as well as a perception that Atkinson ran a bloated administration at the Charleston Administration Center.

“It was an uphill battle. I knew that coming in,” he said. “A lot of people told me there was no chance, and I just didn’t want to believe that.”

Levy campaign supporters who gathered at the Elks Lodge on West Sixth Street said they did all they could to present the facts to the public. They remained guardedly optimistic.

Levy campaign volunteer Janet Garcia, who has worked on four past campaigns, wiped away tears after the results came in.

“That is a tragedy,” she said. “Unfortunately, this city will really have an awakening of what’s going to really going to happen.”

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