December 19, 2014

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Columbia voters pass schools’ ‘do-or-die’ operating levy

Columbia Schools superintendent Graig Bansek talks with Columbia High School students as they wait for election results to come in for the Columbia Schools levy Tuesday night at Columbia High School. ANNA NORRIS/CHRONICLE

Columbia Schools superintendent Graig Bansek talks with Columbia High School students as they wait for election results to come in for the Columbia Schools levy Tuesday night at Columbia High School. ANNA NORRIS/CHRONICLE

COLUMBIA – Superintendent Graig Bansek had his cell phone in his hand nearly the entire night Tuesday.

He used it to continuously update the Lorain County Board of Election’s website on the phone’s small screen, hoping that each time he hit refresh a new update would greet him.

Adrienne Heidecker, left, and Jennifer Davies, right, react after finding out voters passed the Columbia Schools levy with 51 percent of the vote Tuesday night. ANNA NORRIS/CHRONICLE

Adrienne Heidecker, left, and Jennifer Davies, right, react after finding out voters passed the Columbia Schools levy with 51 percent of the vote Tuesday night.

Then, it came – the numbers he was waiting for.

The district’s 5.5-mill operating levy passed with 1,261 votes for the levy to 1,186 votes against, according to unofficial election results.

“We won,” Bansek said, yelling over the crowd of more than 100 that gathered at the Columbia High School.

“You know, it’s been a very gloomy time in our district for the past four years with all the cuts, but we finally have something to look forward to in the district. This is a sensational night for the district.”

The levy, a repeat of one that failed when it appeared before voters in May, was what many in Columbia called a do-or-die issue. Failure would have meant big cuts to the district, including every sport and extracurricular activity for students.

Columbia High Schools students keep their fingers crossed that voters pass the Columbia School levy Tuesday night at the high school.

Columbia High Schools students keep their fingers crossed that voters pass the Columbia School levy Tuesday night at the high school.

It’s passage will prevent a state takeover, which was a real possibility if the district could not balance its books this year.

“I can’t begin to talk about how much this was needed,” Bansek said. “It passed because our voters knew we were out of options. The only option we had was to pass an additional revenue levy. We are so happy the voters decided to get behind us and show us they have confidence in the district.”

Moving forward, the cuts the district saw in previous years will be reinstated slowly, including elective courses for high school students, limited high school busing and the gifted program at Copopa Elementary and Columbia Middle schools.

“We will still be tight for the next 18 months because we borrowed $650,000 that we will have to pay back, but we won,” Bansek said. “I can’t think the Citizens for Schools Committee for their hard work to pass this levy along with the student levy committee. This is a victory that is shared with the entire community.’’

Columbia High Schools students, faculty and parents gather in the cafeteria at Columbia High School Tuesday night awaiting results for the Columbia Schools levy.

Columbia High Schools students, faculty and parents gather in the cafeteria at Columbia High School Tuesday night awaiting results for the Columbia Schools levy.

It was 2003 when voters in Columbia last passed a tax issue for new operating money.

The levy passed Tuesday will pay for day-to-day operations of the district, including personnel, textbooks and supplies. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $187 annually.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.