December 21, 2014

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Keystone Schools to seek 5.95-mill new levy

LAGRANGE — The Keystone school board weighed three tax levy options before board members approved a resolution Monday night to place an additional 5.95-mill operating levy on the Nov. 4 ballot.

A 5.95-mill levy would generate about $1.4 million annually for the district for a continuing period of time. According to information provided by the Lorain County Auditor’s Office, it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $17.35 a month in taxes.

The school board opted at its July 2 meeting to place three separate resolutions for 5.95 mills, 6.95 mills and 7.95 mills before the Lorain County auditor to determine the best option for the district.

Superintendent Jay Arbaugh said the decision to go with a 5.95-mill levy was based on the results of a poll of nearly 500 community members who overwhelmingly said they would prefer a modest tax increase to more cuts.

“This is the lowest we can ask for and still have a positive financial outlook,” Arbaugh said. “I think we’ve listened to the community via the survey and we’ve acted accordingly.”

Board member Renee Mezera echoed Arbaugh’s sentiments.

“We need to go with the bare minimum and do the best that we can to keep what we have,” Mezera said.

School treasurer Susan Bement said the district’s expenses this year exceeded revenue by about $1.5 million. According to Arbaugh, $750,000 in cuts have already been made to next year’s budget, mainly by not replacing five retiring teachers, cutting freshman sports and middle school softball, eliminating one paraprofessional special education position and one part-time custodian, reducing secretarial support staff and increasing pay-to-play and transportation fees.

Arbaugh said if the levy fails, the district will look to make another $1 million in cuts starting in January by eliminating a dozen teaching positions, two security monitor positions, reducing the hours of the special education secretary, eliminating the school resource officer and other paraprofessional positions, reducing nursing services by 50 percent and eliminating summer school intervention programs.

Board member Dennis Walter said passage is vital, and he hopes the community supports the board’s decision.

“If we don’t pass this levy, we’ve dug ourselves another three feet into the ground and it’s going to be a lot harder to get back up to ground level again,” Walter said. “We’ll really have to do some serious cutting if we don’t pass this.”

The district last passed an 8-mill operating levy in 1994, which failed to renew at the polls in 2001. Keystone failed to pass a 5.95-mill levy this year in May.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski.