The fundamental question facing South-Western City Schools' voters Nov. 3 is not merely the passage or failure of the district's 7.4-mill permanent operating levy.

The fundamental question facing South-Western City Schools' voters Nov. 3 is not merely the passage or failure of the district's 7.4-mill permanent operating levy.

Nor is it whether the district has spent its money wisely. Nor is it whether the salaries and benefits of the district's employees are too lavish.

The question overshadowing all these is when, if ever, will the downward slide of services provided to more than 20,000 students come to an end?

Whether school employees receive pay raises of any particular percentage is an argument that has nowhere to land in a school district that has eliminated 350 staff positions (including 19 percent of its administrators) in the past three years.

Debating the intricacies of health care costs cannot escape the shadow of $22-million already stripped from the SWCS budgets over three years. If the Nov. 3 levy fails, $8-million more will disappear from the annual budget and another 85 staff positions will be gone.

The 2-percent annual base salary raises in the district's latest five-year plan are assumptions. Nothing in the document guarantees they will occur.

Such an assumption failed to materialize in July, when the school district's unions agreed to a base pay freeze for the upcoming year. Perhaps they are not the greedy scapegoats some portray them to be.

The school board wants the district to spend efficiently. It plans to get a performance audit from the Ohio auditor's office. It will take seven auditors six months to thoroughly assess the district's books before they can make recommendations. Theirs will be a solid critique of district spending.

Until May 2009, SWCS was a perfectly typical Ohio school district, except for its large geographical size. Compared to other Ohio schools, it was doing nothing unusual and in fact was more frugal than many.

Even though the average school district faces looming budget deficits, the loss of sports and extracurricular activities now sets SWCS apart. The school board said this had to be an outcome were the May levy to fail, which it did.

If the Nov. 3 levy fails, it will have its own outcomes, as well.

The Grove City Record encourages district residents to support Issue 47.