December 19, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Elyria voters show support for schools by passing levy

Elyria school board member Kathryn Karpus hugs Mary Wright, superintendent's administrative assistant, after the schools' levy passes. In the background, Superintendent Paul Rigda conducts phone interviews. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Elyria school board member Kathryn Karpus hugs Mary Wright, superintendent’s administrative assistant, after the schools’ levy passes. In the background, Superintendent Paul Rigda conducts phone interviews. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Six months ago, Elyria voters did their part to show their support for Elyria Schools by passing a 4.95-mill property tax levy.

Tuesday, voters reiterated their support for the district with the passage of Issue 2 – a 15.57-mill property tax renewal –the combination of two renewal levies merged together into one ballot issue. Similar to the election results from November 2013 when more than 66 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the schools’ levy, Issue 2 passed with roughly two-thirds support.

According to unofficial election results, the final tally was 3,926 votes or 65 percent for the tax levy to 2,086 votes or 35 percent against the tax levy.

Superintendent Paul Rigda, who crisscrossed the city in recent weeks getting the message out about what was at stake if the levy failed, said the passage allows him to breath.

“Last summer, we all thought there was no way we could pass three renewals, but these numbers show we have the support of the community in this district. We are entering a new era for Elyria Schools,’’ he said. “For the first time in my recollection of the past nine years, we don’t have to worry about whether we will be broke next year.”

The combined levies of Issue 2 generate $12.7 million a year, which is about 46 percent of the district’s total real estate tax revenue and 17 percent of its total general fund revenue. These funds pay for materials, building maintenance, teacher salaries and academic programs.

District Treasurer Fred Stephens said barring any unforeseen changes in state funding in the coming years, Elyria’s finances should be solid for at least four more years.

“You never truly know, but the five-year forecast has us in a good place,” he said.

Stephens, who is retiring at the end of the year, delivers the financial look-ahead to board members each year. For almost a decade, every report showed a bar graph that dipped into the red for several years forcing board members to cut expenses in order to stave off a deficit. To be able to say that won’t be the case for years to come has always been a dream of Stephens.

“We worked hard to get to this point,” he said. “We made some tough decisions.”

Rigda said the district’s transparency about the money and willingness to make the tough decisions year after year likely played a part in the levy passing. Voters seem to understand that the district has been cut back to the bone. Since 2008, five Elyria school buildings have closed – Eastgate, Cascade, Erie and Roosevelt elementary schools in addition to the Spring Valley Early Childhood Center – and 225 positions have been eliminated.

“This kind of support means they understand,” he said. “They may not have liked what we did, but they knew we had to do it and they support us.”

Cathy Miller, 58, said she voted for the school levy because funding public education is important.

“I don’t agree with everything, but it’s our duty to support our schools,” said the Elyria woman, a registered Republican.

Democrat Susanne Haag, 60, a retired teacher who spent 30 years in Elyria Schools, said she understands where the tax dollars go.

“I know it’s needed,” Haag said. “That’s where our future is for our kids. If we abandon education, we are giving up on our future.’’

Strong schools help build strong communities, said 37-year-old Jane Phillips, a mother of two. Her children do not attend Elyria Schools, but she said she voted in favor of the levy because it’s the best thing for Elyria.

“I will always vote for the schools,” she said.

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