As residents in the Westerville school district prepare to vote on a five-year, 6.71-mill levy, the campaigns for and against Issue 10 both hinge on district spending.

As residents in the Westerville school district prepare to vote on a five-year, 6.71-mill levy, the campaigns for and against Issue 10 both hinge on district spending.

On one side, levy supporters Our Community, Our Schools said the district offers an excellent education for a lower cost.

On the other side, levy opponents Taxpayers for Westerville Schools said the district spends too much and is on the ballot too often.

The levy will appear on the March 6 ballot as Issue 10.

If approved, it would raise $16.54 million each year for the district and would cost property owners $205.49 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually. Unless renewed, it would expire at the end of 2017.

Without the levy, the district faces a $23-million budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2013.

In January, the school board cut $16.7 million from next year's budget.

The actions included reducing transportation to state minimums and cutting all extracurricular activities and special programs such as the magnet school program, the Mosaic program and the Metro program. The cuts included the jobs of 221 full-time employees.

If the levy passes, district officials have said reading intervention programs, programs for gifted students, transportation, extracurricular activities and the magnet school program are items they will look to restore.

Our Community, Our Schools co-chairs Rick Bannister and Jennifer Aultman said with 62 positions already cut and salary concessions made by three of the district's four unions, the district already has shown it is willing to tighten its belt as its asks residents for more money.

"We know voters of Westerville want to continue to see a shared sacrifice," Bannister said. "It started last summer with the teachers and now we've seen that continue."

The district will have to continue a tight budget, Aultman said, because the levy will not bring in enough money to cover the entire deficit.

"Even if the levy passes, this is streamlining," she said.

It's also evident that the district runs efficiently, she said, as it spends less per pupil than other central Ohio districts while maintaining an excellent with distinction grade on the state report card.

Passing the levy is crucial for maintaining the district's excellence, Bannister and Aultman said.

"It's important not just for parents and schools and teachers, but for everyone," Aultman said. "The schools in Westerville have always been at the center of what Westerville's all about."

But levy opponents Taxpayers for Westerville Schools said the district saw the looming budget deficit and continued to approve salary increases for employees and ignored suggestions from residents on ways to save money by seeking new health-insurance plans and having employees pay more of their insurance costs.

"They never really did anything," said Jim Burgess, a representative of Taxpayers for Westerville Schools. "They've spent $22 (million), almost $23 million more in salaries and benefits since 2009 when the last levy was passed. If they would have held firm them instead of waiting until now, that's $22 million."

The district has not changed its position since the failure of the levy in November, the group said.

"Our positions are: What's changed? It's the same board. It's the same administration. It's the same spending habits. It's the same problematic, uncontrolled spending," said Jim Burgess, a representative of Taxpayers for Westerville Schools. "I think there's some frustration that we said no, (but) what changes?"

Salary freezes approved by three of the district's unions don't do anything to solve the budget crisis, Burgess said.

"It doesn't help us get out of our hole; it just doesn't make our hole deeper," he said.

Even if the March levy passes, the district's forecast shows the schools will face another deficit before the five-year life of the levy is over.

"There still is no sustainable plan. There's no sustainable option, and it's time to stop and get this under control," Burgess said.

The cuts the district has approved - unless the levy passes - show the district will not change its management style, Burgess said.

"If this process had been managed properly there would still be plenty of money to keep everything, to keep the people, and we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said. "Instead, it was mismanaged. The district has been managed poorly, and we're in this boat.

"It's the decision the board of education is making to cut these things rather than push hard for concessions or to find ways to reduce spending to bring spending in line with their revenue so they could keep these things."

Various community groups have come out to support the levy, showing the importance of its passage, Bannister said.

The levy has been endorsed by the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Westerville Education Foundation and the Westerville Public Library, Bannister said. Westerville City Council was expected to pass a resolution supporting the levy on Feb. 21, after ThisWeek's press deadline.

Bannister said the campaign is working to "get out the vote," informing residents of how important it is to get to the polls to support the levy March 6.

"(You) can't sit this one out. This is too critical," Bannister said. "Sitting this one out is a 'no' vote."