What began as a very bleak year has ended well for the Licking Heights school district, said Superintendent Philip Wagner.

What began as a very bleak year has ended well for the Licking Heights school district, said Superintendent Philip Wagner.

"It was certainly a challenging year," Wagner said. "I'm proud of the body of work completed."

As the year began, the district was reeling from the November defeat of its 8.9-mill levy request. District officials had to eliminate almost $2.8 million from the operating budget, laid off roughly 40 staff members and dealt with no high school busing service.

Wagner said class sizes increased to 25 to 30 students per class with the reduced staffing levels.

"The community and staff stayed focused on what was important to children," he said.

Wagner said the staff, board members and levy supporters worked hard to convince the public of the levy's importance when it reappeared on the ballot May 7.

This time, district officials scored a close victory with 1,877 votes for the levy and 1,733 against, or 52 percent to 48 percent. Voters in Franklin County accounted for the approval, casting 1,084 votes -- almost two-thirds of the turnout -- in favor, as opposed to 490 against. In Licking County, the majority of voters -- 1,243 -- voted against the levy, while 793 voted for it.

Since May, Wagner said, the district restored transportation services and rehired staff members, although many had sought new positions after the first levy defeat.

Departures and arrivals

June 28 was the last day for Curriculum Director Tyrone Olverson, who accepted a position as Finneytown Local Schools superintendent.

It also was the last day for South Elementary School principal Renae Schwartz, who accepted an elementary principal position with Delaware City Schools.

Licking Heights High School interim principal Mark White stepped down from his position, as well.

To replace them, the district hired Ken Kraemer as Licking Heights High School principal, Angel King as curriculum director and Kurt Scheiderer is South Elementary principal.

State report card

Throughout the district's financial struggles, Wagner said, the district fared particularly well and the Ohio Department of Education's newly reformatted state report card was encouraging.

Ohio school districts won't receive an overall letter grade until 2015, but Licking Heights managed mostly A's and B's on the educational components graded this year.

It did, however, receive C's for achievement of disabled students and those ranking in the lowest 20 percent statewide in the value-added categories, and a D in annual measurable objectives, which, Wagner said, is similar to AYP (adequate yearly progress) in the old report card format.

"I'm overall pleased with the results, but there's work to be done," he said, adding he's excited to see how the district will perform in 2014 on the state report card, now that Licking Heights' financial woes are behind it for now.

Lawsuit result

Wagner said another significant event for the year was the district winning a lawsuit in September against the Reynoldsburg school district, resulting in Reynoldsburg being ordered to pay Licking Heights more than $1 million in compensation for property taxes.

The dispute dates back to 2001 and concerns a 1991 agreement the two districts made to share property-tax revenue from 200 acres in Reynoldsburg city limits and the Licking Heights school district, Reynoldsburg school board President Andrew Swope said at the time.