Residents packed the Westerville Board of Education meeting Monday night to show their support for or opposition to the 11.4-mill replacement levy the district has placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Residents packed the Westerville Board of Education meeting Monday night to show their support for or opposition to the 11.4-mill replacement levy the district has placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Eleven residents made public comments pertaining to the issue. Most -- nine of the 11 -- were Westerville students, parents or business people showing their support.

Those speaking in support of Issue 48 included Westerville resident Rick Bannister, local Realtor Rick Rano and Westerville South senior class president Cara Rano.

Opposition speakers were Robert Edwards, founder of the levy opposition site levyfacts.com, and Westerville resident Peg Duffy.

Bannister asked for support for Issue 48 because, he said, the district has maintained its excellent rating while staying off the ballot until this year, a promise made during the last levy bid in 2006.

"Maintaining our excellent rating has not been easy with no additional revenue," Bannister said.

To balance the budget despite declining revenues in a bad economy, he said the district has been responsible by making $10.9-million in budget adjustments. In addition, he said investing in schools is a sound thing to do.

"Strong schools and a strong community mean everything to our home values," Bannister said.

Rick Rano, a Westerville South High School graduate and a local Realtor, said as a businessman, he knows how much quality schools mean to Westerville, especially when the city was recently named the 15th best place to live by CNN's Money magazine.

"The quality of life in Westerville is unparalleled by any other community in central Ohio," Rano said. "Our district does more with less."

If schools are allowed to fail, he said it will discourage people and businesses from locating to Westerville and discourage local businesses from expanding.

Cara Rano, Westerville South senior class president, said funding the schools well allows students to continue to participate in programs and activities that help them to excel.

"These programs are what challenge our students and put Westerville students ahead," she said.

Edwards countered by saying the district does not have to ask for a tax increase in order to offer quality programs. He said with residents out of jobs or seeing a decline in pay, now is not the time to raise taxes.

"Please hear the voices of the many people who are asking you to do the right thing," Edwards said. "My message from the beginning has been: 'Now is not the time to raise taxes' not, never is that time."

As the levy will raise $69-million in taxes, Edwards said $54-million will go toward increases in salaries and benefits, rather than toward programs benefiting students.

"This is not for the kids when 80 cents of every dollar will go to salaries and benefits," he said. "We can maintain quality schools without raising taxes right now."

Peg Duffy said levy supporters have been spreading fear about what cuts will come if the levy fails. She also admonished them for using students to go out and advocate for the levy, saying it was using kids to further the political agenda of adults.

"I'm saddened," Duffy said.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com