Members of the Citizens for Strong Schools Committee are trying to regroup for a second shot at getting an operating levy on the ballot in Hilliard.

Members of the Citizens for Strong Schools Committee are trying to regroup for a second shot at getting an operating levy on the ballot in Hilliard.

Chairperson Bobbi Mueller said she is trying to identify school building teams before school lets out on March 30.

"I haven't confirmed the steering committee, it will depend on the strategy and what needs to be done," she said on May 22, "but the majority of those who were on it in March are coming back in the fall."

Mueller, accompanied by J.D. Biros and other members of the steering committee, attended a Hilliard City School District Board of Education meeting May 12 to examine the March levy failure and look forward to the fall campaign.

Mueller outlined what she expects of the district and its board of education.

"We hope to identify the millage amount as soon as possible," she said. "We need to identify specific cuts and identify them as soon as we are able."

Mueller believes it is essential to be as specific as possible if the district hopes to pass a future operating levy.

Immediately after the defeat of the operating levy on March 4, Superintendent Dale McVey made it clear that the district would return to the voters in November for yet another attempt at passage.

Only one time in 25 years, he said, has the district been successful on the first attempt. He said that success occurred in 2002.

Mueller said election night that the defeat forces the district and a campaign committee to return to the ballot.

"I don't see how we have a choice," she said at the time, "not for the kids, not for the community."

Denise Bobbitt, school board president, said at the time that the need does not go away.

The district, she said, will be forced to make $25-million in cuts over the course of the next three years.

A slashing of the budget began in late April when $4.49-million in cuts resulted in 38 teaching positions across all grade levels, five administrative and 50 support positions being eliminated.

Five percent was also cut from all department and building budgets, with an additional $247,000 taken from the central office budget.

Some programming was also eliminated.

Mueller said late last week that she is willing to chair yet another campaign committee.

"We have had a briefing session for parent team leaders from all the schools," she said, "and we are getting results back from that."

It is hard for Mueller to be specific with the team leaders since the board has not identified a millage for the levy or specific cuts which will follow in the future. Still, she said, it is important to have everything in place so when they come back in August they are not in a rush to get their work done.

Mueller said they will continue to work throughout the summing.

"We are trying to regroup and establish parents we want to stay involved," she said. "Most people involved in the campaign want to see this be successful, so there is a lot of continuation of the same people. It will be a different campaign; it will not be the same as in March. We are looking at different things that can be tried and we won't turn anyone away. Hopefully everyone will come back, plus."

She said they are focused on ways to communicate the need for a levy to residents of the Hilliard schools community, such as webcasting so videos are available and people can log on at their convenience.

During her presentation to the school board, Mueller said when the steering committee funded a survey by Martin Saperstein, of Saperstein Associates, back in December it was a little more precise than the one conducted for the school board in January of 2007.

She said questions not posed in the Hilliard City Schools: The 2007 Community Attitudes Survey were asked of the registered voters in December and it looked as if the levy had a 50-50 chance of passing.

"Only 40 percent of the district voters anticipate supporting an operating levy over the next two years," Saperstein said in March of 2007 after the district survey was conducted.

The campaign committee only conducted one survey, because the cost was $22,000.

Fifty-seven percent of the Columbus voters were expected to support the levy based on the December survey, but only 49 percent did. Forty-five percent of the Hilliard residents were anticipated to favor the levy, but only 42 percent did. Dublin was a surprise, because 34 percent were believed to be supporters of the levy, but when it came voting time 36 percent favored it. Townships voters, according to the survey, were expected to support the levy by 49 percent, but only 33 percent offered a favorable response.

Prairie, followed by Norwich, had the most positive showing among the townships.

"Historically the townships are not our strongest supporters," said Mueller. "Parents are the best supporters."

Seventy-one percent of the voters went to the polls, while 26 percent cast absentee ballots and 3 percent voted provisional.

Mueller said 8,200 absentee ballot requests were made.

"Typically we have never had more than 1,000 requests," she said.

Biros said the campaign committee for the November election will need to roll out its campaign as soon as possible because of the significant increase in absentee voting.

Mueller said absentee ballots are available as early as Sept. 30 for the Nov. 4 election.

"The campaign efforts have to be bumped up before they start to vote," she said.