Licking County News

Franklin County voters spur Licking Heights levy win

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In retrospect, Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner said he was not surprised that Franklin County voters were key factors May 7 for approval of the district's 8.92-mill, 10-year emergency levy.

"It's an interesting trend we've seen in our elections for years," Wagner said.

Wagner said geographically, two-thirds of Licking Heights is in Licking County, but 60 percent of the district's parents live in the Franklin County portion.

According to final unofficial results, 1,877 votes (52 percent) were cast in favor of the levy and 1,733 (48 percent) were cast against.

In Licking County, the levy actually failed 1,243 votes (61 percent) to 793 (39 percent).

However, in Franklin County 1,084 voters (69 percent) favored the levy and 490 (31 percent) voted against it.

Wagner said he wasn't too discouraged when Licking County's election results began rolling in because he'd seen early results from Franklin County showing that the levy was performing strongly.

He said he tried to assure those around him that there was hope of approval.

"Part of the superintendent's job is to keep emotions in check," Wagner said.

The levy will raise $4.3 million per year and cost property owners $272 per year per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

Wagner said the district would not return to the ballot for operational revenue before 2016.

The same 8.92-mill levy request failed last November, 2,776 votes to 1,693 in favor, and the district cut $2.8 million from its operating budget.

Several teachers and other employees were laid off and high school bus transportation was eliminated.

With the May 7 levy approval, Wagner said, no additional program or staff reductions will be made.

The district will restore nearly all positions that were reduced in the first phase of the budget reduction process in December and January.

High school busing will be restored at the start of the 2013-14 school year, and pay-to-participate fees will not change ($100 at Licking Heights High School and $75 at Central Middle School per child).

Wagner said the levy approval ensures several enhancements to the educational program, such as elementary classes capped at 24 students per class; enhanced Advanced Placement and honors courses; world language courses; an additional middle school technology teacher; a college counselor; a restored assistant principal at South Elementary; and additional support for students in need of alternative education.

"On behalf of the school district, it's very exciting to be able to continue to strive toward excellence," Wagner said.

The district recently was rated Excellent with Distinction on the state report card released by the Ohio Department of Education.

Wagner said it would have been nearly impossible to maintain that rating if the levy failed.

He said some of those who didn't support the levy had expressed concerns the district was wasting money.

However, he said, the recent Ohio Department of Education Cupp Report showed Licking Heights spends more than $300 less per student than it did in 2011 and receives $152 less per pupil in revenue than it did in 2011.

According to the report, Licking Heights' spending and revenue also decreased while similar districts saw an increase in both areas.

For those who didn't support the levy, Wagner said, "we'll continue to manage our money well and earn their trust through the process."

Board member Nicole Roth said the levy passage shows community support for the district.

"I don't want the community to think that now that the levy has passed we can relax," Roth said. "It just means that the focus of the board and administration has now shifted."

Instead of worrying about how the district would operate if the levy request were rejected, Roth said, the board and administration can focus on getting back to where Licking Heights was before November and enhancing the district.

"This is an exciting time for Licking Heights and for the students," she said. "We can focus on reducing class sizes, adding more AP and Honors classes and expanding course offerings at the middle school and high school."

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