April 16, 2014

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Lorain Schools passes first new levy in 20 years

LORAIN — Like a sports team trying to win on the road, supporters of the Lorain Schools’ levy hoped to run up a big lead and hang on for dear life.

Lorain School Board Vice President Bill Sturgill, Chairwoman of Citizens for Lorain Schools Chairwoman Bambi Dillon, and Lorain Schools Superintendent Tom Tucker were happy at the early returns for its school levy Tuesday. (CT photo by Chuck Humel.)

“Please let it keep trending,” Board of Education and levy committee member Bill Sturgill said at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday with 65 percent of the votes counted and an approximately 1,100-vote lead for the levy. “I’m so tired that I want to go home and go to bed, but I’m too excited that maybe we just might win.”

An hour later, Superintendent Tom Tucker announced that according to unofficial results from the Lorain County Board of Elections, the levy had passed. Issue 38 passed 9,975 to 8,442, or 54 percent to 46 percent.

“We won!” Tucker said to cheers from about 30 supporters who gathered at the Elks Club.

With a $4.7 million deficit and a state financial takeover likely in the spring, supporters desperately hoped for passage, but history was working against them. Voters hadn’t approved a new levy since 1992 and five had been defeated since 2008.

The seven-year, 4.8 mill levy will raise $3.12 million annually and will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $147 a year. It was a tough sell in a city devastated by deindustrialization before the Great Recession and with higher unemployment than the Ohio and national average.

Voters also were being asked to pass the levy as the city sought passage of Issue 13, a 0.5 percent income tax increase that would cost a worker earning $50,000 an additional $250 annually. School board members had wanted to hold a special election in August and propose an income tax levy with property tax relief if it passed, but yielded to Mayor Chase Ritenauer who said an income tax levy would make it harder for the city’s tax to pass. Issue 13 also passed.

Levy supporters credited larger turnout for the presidential election — the 2008 levy failed by 52 votes — and the leadership of Tucker, the new superintendent, for passage.

Tucker, a Lorain native, spent 28 years in the district before leaving in 2008. He returned in August to lead the district.

Tucker said passage, along with future administrative cuts, will likely mean the district will get a loan allowing it to avoid the takeover. The district will also reinstitute full-day kindergarten in January. It was cut in June as part of $7.3 million in cuts that included 182 layoffs.

“This doesn’t solve all of our problems, but it definitely gives us some breathing room,” Tucker said.

“I feel a debt of gratitude and I promise that I will follow through.”

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