Licking County News

Licking Heights

Busing, staff cuts part of fallout from failed levy

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The reality is sinking in for Licking Heights officials, which must terminate high school bus service and implement a reduction of at least 40 staff members in the wake the school district's failed 8.9-mill levy request, said Superintendent Philip Wagner.

"The community has spoken and we have to respect their wishes," Wagner said.

As a result, the district must cut $2.8 million from its operating budget.

According to final, unofficial results from the Licking County Board of Elections on Nov. 6, more than 60 percent of voters opposed the levy. It failed 2,776 votes to 1,693 votes.

The 8.9-mill levy would have generated about $4.3 million annually, kept the district in the black until 2017 and cost about $272 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Wagner said the school board organized a clear agenda of budget changes ahead of the vote in the event of the levy's failure and that agenda is set in motion.

"It's not the plan we wanted to implement," he said.

First, high school busing will be eliminated as of Dec. 3, and 18 morning and 18 afternoon routes will be eliminated.

Wagner confirmed these changes will take place, adding that Nov. 30 will be the final day of high school bus service and several drivers will be laid off. Licking Heights field trips will be eliminated for all grade levels and nonpublic busing for Newark Catholic, Gahanna Christian and Liberty Christian East high schools also will be eliminated by Dec. 3.

Regarding personnel, cuts will begin with the elimination of one school resource officer and an additional 5 percent building-budget reduction.

Among certified personnel, 14 teachers, kindergarten to high school, will be cut, along with two gifted specialist teachers, one Title I staff member, two guidance positions, one intervention specialist, three testing coordinators and one foreign language teacher, most likely for Spanish.

Among the classified personnel, cuts will include three groundskeeper positions, one bus mechanic, four library aides, three health aides and five custodial staff members, meaning that the district buildings will close early and not remain open after class hours for community use.

Administrative cuts will include one supervisor and one central office staff member.

Wagner said the only positive for him following the failure has been an "outpouring" of messages from parents who were shocked the levy failed and have since promised to do what they can to promote another levy attempt.

He said no programs were eliminated completely, so should another levy succeed, reduced programs could be enhanced and not completely rebuilt from scratch.

As for why the levy failed, board President Richard Wand said he did not know.

He said the board and administration will conduct a "post-levy breakdown" to determine what could have been done differently.

"It's a difficult time to get that sort of approval," Wand said. "Licking County has historically been an anti-tax community.

"We'll deal with it, and we'll keep moving."

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