ELYRIA — Superintendent Paul Rigda remembers a time when voters just wanted to know the answer to one question before heading into the voting booth. Is this an issue about more money?
If the answer was no — as will be the case in November when voters see Issue 31 on the ballot — then the victory was almost guaranteed to be a landslide. So much has changed in recent years as a downtrodden economy plagued with foreclosures, layoffs and stagnant household incomes has turned even renewals into tough sells.
“It has become that we are constantly selling ourselves and our product to people over and over again,” Rigda said. “I completely understand that when you are asking for new money. But renewals should be, in the public’s eye, a responsibility. New money is not a responsibility. At some point, you have to trust us.”
Rigda said going into this election cycle, where $4 million is at stake — that’s what the renewal is worth to the district’s bottom line — he plans to keep the message very clear. In the past five years, the district has cut $6 million from its budget by closing multiple schools and reducing the workforce by 250 employees.
“I’d like to see a private company do that and say it’s business as usual,” he said. “We have to work to maintain the same product because the product is children.”
Public education is an odd beast when it comes to funding. Some comes from the federal government, a chunk comes from the state and millions from local taxpayers by way of property taxes.
Treasurer Fred Stephens said losing even some of that money, which would happen if voters shot down the renewal,would have financial ripples that would affect every student in the district.
November’s renewal is one of three renewals voters will see in the next eight months. This one is worth $4 million and two that will be on the ballot in May 2014 are worth a combined $13 million.
“Local revenue is about $27 million,” Stephens said. “Losing a piece of that? We couldn’t live. We can’t exist if these don’t pass.”
Rigda said the message he is delivering is one of optimism about Elyria’s future and trust that Elyria voters are on the side of the schools.
“Survey after survey has told us the public can see what we are going,” he said. “This is no new money so we have to keep driving this home.”
What is it: A 4.95-mill renewal levy
Duration: Five years
How much would it raise: $4.3 million
Purpose: District operations including textbooks and materials, instruction, transportation and utilities
Cost to owner of a $100,000 house: Residents pay $151 a month and a renewal means they will pay no more.