November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Levy failure means district reductions in Avon Lake

AVON LAKE — Cuts are a given for the Avon Lake school district after Tuesday’s failure of a 9.04-mill emergency operating levy.

Unofficial results show the five-year issue failed by a 6,744 to 6,029 vote.

“We’re a little disappointed it didn’t pass, but the fact we lost by that much has us feeling good, given the amount we were asking for,” Superintendent Robert Scott said. “This shows when you get close to 6,000 to vote yes, you have a credible argument for that money.”

The levy would have raised $7.5 million a year and cost owners of homes valued at $100,000 an additional $277 in taxes annually.

School officials knew the high millage would be a hard sell, but they felt it was needed to make up for the loss of roughly $7 million over the past three years.

“The reasons for asking for that amount have not changed,” Scott said. “We felt it was a very honest number for our public due to the revenue loss we had.”

The loss of funds stems chiefly from a reduction in state funds and devaluation of residential and commercial property in the city, primarily the Genon generating plant, which is slated to close in 2015. The plant’s eventual shutdown is going to cost the district even more in lost property tax revenue and utility taxes.

The loss of state money works out to about $600 per student. The figure is down from the $1,100-per-student the schools received in 2006, the last year new money was approved by voters.

Mindful of the area’s ongoing economic struggles, school officials were keenly aware of voters’ reluctance to add more of a tax burden on themselves.

“We heard that it was too much, and people can’t afford it right now,” Scott said.

Avon Lake residents also voted on money issues including a paramedic-firefighter levy for the city Fire Department, and the county-wide Lorain County Joint Vocational School renewal, both of which passed.

While reductions can be made in non-classroom areas, some reductions in staff are inevitable.

“When 82 percent of your costs are personnel, that has to come into play,” Scott said.

Meetings already are being held with building principals to see where cuts may be made.

“We will do everything we can to preserve as much of our academic integrity as we can,” Scott said.

The district could opt to increase pay-to-play fees, which are $200 a year for high school students, regardless of the number of sports.

Scott said the levy would likely appear again on the spring primary ballot.

“The board has already passed the deadline for a special election,” Scott said. “There was no interest in that.”

Earlier financial projections concluded about $2.8 million in cuts would have to be made by the 2014-15 school year to avoid a deficit if no new tax revenue was forthcoming.

“Whether this levy passed or not, Avon Lake has always been a great supporter of the school system and we know they will be again,” Scott said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.