Westerville News & Public Opinion

Westerville schools

Cutbacks, levy battles mark year for district

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THISWEEKNEWS FILE PHOTO
Carol Hribar (right) a volunteer with Taxpayers for Westerville Schools checks levy vote returns on her tablet March 6 as fellow volunteer Susan Fulton looks on. The group led a successful campaign against the district's fall 2011 levy request, and also opposed the March request. But the March levy was approved 51.2 to 48.8 percent.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Money, in terms of levies and budget cuts, dominated conversations in the Westerville City School District in 2012.

After a failed levy in November 2011, the school district faced a $23 million budget cut in the 2012-2013 school year, prompting the board to re-examine its budget and seek additional funds.

Top school district stories for the year, from a look back at the pages of ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion, included:

 

Board cuts $16.7 million

In January, following the November 2011 levy defeat, the Westerville Board of Education voted to slash $16.7 million from the district's budget to keep it in the black.

The cuts included reducing transportation to state minimums and cutting all extracurricular activities, including sports, and special programs such as the magnet school program, the Mosaic program and the Metro program.

The budget cuts included the elimination of 221 full-time jobs.

 

Unions agree to freeze pay

As the district faced uncertainties about its financial future, the Board of Education asked the district's four collective bargaining units to reopen contract negotiations.

Ultimately, all of the unions agreed to salary concessions to help trim funds and potentially save jobs.

On Feb. 13, OAPSE Local 138, the union representing the district's 179 custodians, maintenance staff and food-service workers, voted to approve a two-year pay freeze including both the step increases included in contracts and negotiated cost-of-living adjustments.

Employees also agreed to contribute an additional $1,200 toward health-savings account deductibles for family coverage.

The 110 members of OAPSE Local 719, representing the district's bus drivers and mechanics, and the Westerville Educational Support Staff Association approved similar agreements in February.

The concessions from the three unions were projected to save the district just under $1 million over the two-year terms of the contracts.

The Westerville Education Association, which represents the districts approximately 1,000 teachers, came to an agreement with the board of education in August, after threats of striking circulated.

Like the other unions, the teachers agreed to two-year pay freezes and increases in employee contribution to healthcare.

The concessions, which were projected to save the district $1.1 million, were under the condition that the district returned related-arts teachers and aides who previously had been cut.

 

Voters approve March levy

The school district did win over a majority of voters in the March 6 election, with a narrow margin votng yes on a five-year 6.71-mill emergency levy.

In final results, the levy was approved with 15,544 votes to 14,800 votes, or 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent.

Residents will begin paying on the levy next year, with the issue costing property owners an additional $205.49 annually for every $100,000 of assessed property value. The levy was expected to raise an additional $16.54 million annually for the school district.

 

District due refund from 'Win-Win' overpayment

Columbus City Schools will repay $933,000 to the Westerville City School District over the next three years after officials discovered in March that Westerville had overpaid Columbus City Schools through the Win-Win agreement.

The 26-year-old agreement allows central Ohio suburban school districts to maintain their boundaries within the city of Columbus while sharing some property tax revenue from commercial development in those areas with Columbus City Schools.

An investigation by the suburban districts discovered that, over the years, some districts had overpaid Columbus while others had underpaid.

In August, the Westerville Board of Education approved a new deal with Columbus City Schools to have the difference repaid through the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.

The deal also sets forth that districts will be able to review their bills from Columbus moving forward, something that wasn't possible before because Columbus didn't share its complicated Win-Win formula.

 

District restores programs

Following the passage of the levy March 6, the Westerville City School District moved to bring back some of the programs it cut earlier in the year.

The board voted in late April to restore $7.3 million of the $23 million in programs that was cut after the failed November 2011 levy bid.

In many cases, the district brought back scaled-down versions of its programs.

For example, only 24.7 of 55.85 full-time employees cut from the art and physical education departments were kept on staff.

Extracurricular activities were reinstated, but pay-to-participate fees were more than doubled, with the cost of high school sports raised from $100 to $240 per student per sport and for middle school sports raised from $50 to $120.

For nonathletic extracurricular activities, the board instituted a $15 fee at the middle school level, and at the high-school level, a $15 fee for clubs and a $50 fee for music and theater programs were instituted.

High school transportation was restored to the state-minimum standards imposed on kindergarten through eighth grades, with students who live more than two miles from school being bused, and students having to walk up to a half-mile to bus stops.

One program that was restored entirely was the non-Title 1 reading intervention programs for elementary school students.

 

Many teachers retire, resign at end of school year

With budget uncertainty, and uncertainty in the State Teachers Retirement System, a much higher than usual number of teachers retired or resigned at the end of the 2011-2012 school year.

Nearly 70 teachers handed in their retirements at the end of the school year.

At the time, school officials said teachers were moved to retire because of budget cuts and job cuts that came to the district after the failure of the November 2011 levy, and because of potential state changes to the state retirement system that encouraged teachers at or close to retirement age to retire.

In addition to the high number of retirements, the district also saw nearly 40 resignations at the end of the last school year.

 

District closes Longfellow, Central College

As a result of the district's budget cuts, the Longfellow and Central College magnet elementary school buildings were closed at the end of the last school year.

Students from those school buildings were moved into Hanby Arts Magnet School.

At all of the district's magnet schools -- Longfellow, Central College, Hanby, Emerson and part of Robert Frost -- no first-grade classes were added this year while the district re-examines its elementary school programming.

At the start of the current school year, the district began surveying parents and conducting committees to determine how elementary programming would take shape in the 2013-2014 school year.

Meanwhile, for the current school year, the closed school buildings have remained vacant with no word from school officials on what will happen to them.

 

School levy repeal effort

In August, Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, the group that opposed the district's March and November 2011 levy requests, filed petitions with more than 4,700 signatures to the Franklin County Board of Elections to roll back district property taxes.

The group sought to reduce a 11.4-mill operating levy passed in 2009 by 6.71 mills, the exact size of the levy passed by district voters in March. The March levy itself was not eligible for repeal under state law because it is not a permanent levy.

The board of elections initially certified the issue for the ballot, but then reversed its decision after local attorney Gene Hollins filed a protest based on state law that doesn't allow for replacement levies, which the 2009 levy was, to be repealed.

The Taxpayers for Westerville Schools group appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The supreme court, however, sided with Hollins and the board of elections in keeping the rollback off of the November ballot.

 

Good announces retirement

Superintendent Dan Good announced in October that he would retire from the Westerville City School District at the end of the current school year.

Good, 51, said he was encouraged to retire by representatives from the state retirement system who led him to believe it made the most sense financially to retire now.

Good was hired to Westerville schools' top post in November 2007. His current contract, which pays him $189,000 per year, is set to expire in 2015.

The Board of Education now is searching for Good's replacement.

The board received applications for the post in December. They will begin interviews in early January and aim to have a new superintendent chosen in early February.

 

North Spanish teacher killed in murder-suicide

A story unrelated to the district's finances rocked the Westerville schools community in January 2012. Westerville North High School teacher Leroy Gilkey was killed in a murder-suicide.

Gilkey, a popular Spanish teacher at North for more than 12 years, was shot and killed by his father, Paul Gilkey, Jan. 9 in Hocking County. Paul Gilkey also shot and killed his two sisters-in-law before killing himself.

Students and staff at Westerville schools said Gilkey's was a joyful and caring person who worked hard to take care of his mother, who was separated from his father until recent years.

A scholarship fund was started at Westerville North in Gilkey's name.

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