May 7 ballot
Licking Heights will ask again for 8.9-mill levy
Licking Heights school officials say approval of a May levy would almost return the district to the status it had before local voters rejected a November ballot issue.
The school board voted 4-1 Feb. 5 to place a 10-year, 8.92-mill emergency levy on the May 7 primary ballot. The levy voted down in November was for the same millage.
Board member Richard Wand cast the lone dissenting vote, but he emphasized that he supports a May ballot issue. However, he said, he would have preferred a higher millage rate.
The 8.9-mill levy would raise $4.3 million per year and cost about $272 annually per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.
The Nov. 6 levy request failed decisively by a vote of 2,776 votes against to 1,693 in favor. The district was forced to cut $2.8 million from its operating budget, including laying off several teachers and other employees and eliminating high school bus transportation.
Treasurer Jennifer Vanover said approval of the May levy would allow the district to rehire or replace the teachers it has lost since November and to restore bus transportation to the high school beginning in August.
"We'd be getting ourselves back to where we would've been had we passed in November," she said. "If we pass in May, we intend to borrow against it."
Vanover said if the levy passes, the district wants to restore its academic programs as quickly as possible and will secure a loan to make that happen. This means the district would have to repay a debt service, which would not have been necessary had the levy passed in November, she said.
Vanover said some nonacademic personnel who have been laid off, such as landscape workers and custodians might not be rehired, but she said that remains to be seen.
"I'm not saying none of them would come back," she said. "We want to make sure we do it the right way."
Vanover said she'd question the wisdom of putting everything back exactly the way it was before November without exploring whether any of the nonacademic cuts already made would continue to benefit the district.
Wand said he voted against placing the levy on the ballot because the 8.9 mills would allow the district to keep its class sizes the same, but wouldn't do anything to expand academic programs.
He said if the millage were high enough to raise an additional $500,000, for example, the district could hire another eight to 10 teachers and significantly improve academics.
Wand said the board was clear in November that a May issue would need to be for increased millage to cover debt service.
"Obviously, we balance public perception," Wand said.
He said he understands other board members' opinions that voters are most likely to support the lowest possible millage, but he believes that might not be the case.
"Several things have changed since November," he said. "I've heard from several people since who said, 'We thought you were bluffing.' "
Wand said residents are more keenly aware of the district's financial condition following the layoffs and suspended transportation service. He said the levy likely will garner more support this time.