July 30, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Schools levy defeated

ELYRIA — It was a subdued atmosphere at Elyria High School even before the first set of election results were posted online Tuesday evening.

Superintendent Paul Rigda, usually the boisterous leader of the district, stayed mainly at his table, huddled with the district’s treasurer, human resource director and business services director. IPhones and smart phones linked school officials to results from the Lorain County Board of Elections.

By late evening, school officials had to acknowledge that the levy they so desperately had hoped would pass was defeated. Unofficial election results has the schools 10-year, 4.99-mill property tax levy failing by a vote of 10,191 votes, or 53 percent against the levy, to 8,888 votes, or 47 percent, for the levy.

“We did everything we could,” said Treasurer Fred Stephens. “There was nothing else we could have done.”

Now, Stephens said school officials will have the daunting tax of cutting next school year’s budget by $3 million, a figure that will only be accomplished by massive cuts to key extracurricular programs. The school board will likely hear the proposed cuts in roughly a month, Stephens said.

But first school board member Ginny Hawes said board members want to hear from residents.

“We have made so many cuts in the past six years that now we’re down to cutting all of the extras people care about, and the community will need to weigh in on where those cuts should be made,” Hawes said.

Rigda said he went into Tuesday with very high hopes.

“We had greeters at all the polls and from what I hear everyone was smiling and nodding. Certainly they looked very supportive,” he said. “We took a poll in the summer and 55 percent said they would vote for it and they said they didn’t want us to make $3 million in cuts.”

But in the end, voters were divided enough to keep the district from winning a second tax increase for district operations in four years. The last time voters approved new money for the district was in May 2010.

That approval came on the heels of a bond issue for the new high school that was passed in May 2007.

“The desire to have more and more money to teach kids has gotten out of hand,” said Gary Barnett, 57. A toolmaker by trade, Barnett said he just could not vote for another school levy.

“The education really starts more at home more than just throwing money at a problem,” he said. “You can throw all the money at the schools and if the kids don’t want to learn, if the parents don’t give them that little push to learn, the money’s not going to do much good.”

Other voters wanted to give Elyria the financial boost.

Marcus Little, 27, said he voted for the levy. He is a University of Toledo student and web developer.

“I just feel strongly about education,” he said. “Everyone is screaming about job creation, but if you don’t have the education and the skill set to actually be able to participate in this work force, it’s for nothing.”

Staff reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.