Licking County News

Wagner: Busing cuts imminent if levy is rejected

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Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner has a contingency plan ready if local voters reject the school district's 8.9-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

He told school board members Oct. 24 that the first major cuts would involve district transportation.

"These are not punitive measures," Wagner said. "It's about the money, not the organization of the routes."

If approved, the 8.9-mill levy would generate $4.3 million per year and would cost $272 per year per $100,000 in assessed property value.

Without it, Treasurer Jennifer Vanover previously said the district would have a deficit of $527,000 at the end of the year. The levy would keep the district in the black for at least four years and possibly five.

Should it be rejected, the district would need to cut $2.8 million from its operating budget, including all high school busing.

"Right now, we're understaffed in the area of transportation," Wagner said.

Wagner said this year's bus ridership increased by 284 students, or roughly 11 percent, and 74 percent of Licking Heights students ride buses.

He and transportation supervisor Johnny Morrison reviewed the district's overall transportation budget and determined the following actions would be necessary in the event the levy is rejected:

* High school busing would be eliminated as of Dec. 3, and 18 morning and 18 afternoon routes would be eliminated.

* Some bus drivers would be laid off.

* Field trips would be eliminated for all grade levels.

* Busing to private schools -- Newark Catholic, Gahanna Christian and Liberty Christian East schools -- would be eliminated by Dec. 3.

Wagner and Morrison determined that should the levy pass, the district would maintain its current level of bus service, additional routes would be added to relieve current schedule challenges and the district would continue to provide busing for field trips.

Wagner emphasized that the possible transportation changes were not empty threats to push approval of the levy.

"No one would make this up, because it would hurt children," he said.

Wagner said that other cuts would include the elimination of five custodial positions, meaning that the district buildings could not remain open after class hours for community use.

"It's either close the buildings down or cut more teachers," he said.

Wagner previously said a May 2011 11.9-mill levy was approved with the understanding that it would only catch the district up to an "emergency level" and school board members knew the revenue wouldn't sustain the district for long.

He said the board promised that the district wouldn't return to the voters until November 2012.

Board member Mark Loth said the district made $1.5 million in cuts even after the May 2011 levy was approved.

"I think people understand the urgency of the situation," Wagner said.

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