On Aug. 2, area voters will have their chance to weigh in on a 5.5-mill continuing levy for the Pickerington Local School District.

On Aug. 2, area voters will have their chance to weigh in on a 5.5-mill continuing levy for the Pickerington Local School District.

Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The levy is the only item on Fairfield County's special-election ballot.

If passed, the levy would generate approximately $5.95 million per year, beginning in January 2012, according to the district. Annually, that would cost property owners $168.44 for every $100,000 in home valuation.

The district unsuccessfully sought an 8-mill replacement levy in November 2010 that would have generated $7.586-million. It failed by 130 votes.

Since then, the district has cut approximately $13 million from its 2011-12 operating budget by laying off 125 employees, 82 of whom were teachers. The school board also approved reductions in district transportation, altered school hours for the 2011-12 school year and increased pay-to-participate fees for students involved in extracurricular activities.

District officials have said they will need to cut at least another $7 million from the 2011-12 operating budget if the Aug. 2 levy fails. They maintain the levy is needed to balance the district's budget in the face on continued cuts in state funding and a drop in local property tax collections due to Ohio's prolonged economic slump.

"Do we need a levy? The answer is absolutely yes," PLSD treasurer Dan Griscom said at the school board's July 11 meeting. "There's only so much we can do without digging into the programs and affecting the quality of services we provide.

"We are at a (state) funding levy of about three or four years ago," he said. "We're losing about a couple million dollars a year compared to where we thought we would be. No one wants to put a levy on the ballot, but we thought we would do what was the most reasonable amount."

On July 22, Griscom said the district received more bad news from the state.

"We received news from the Ohio Department of Education that our state funding for (fiscal year) 2012 and (fiscal year) 2013 is less than was what was provided in the original version of the state budget released in March," he said. "The additional reduction to our district in the state's revised budget is substantial: According to the revised figures, we will receive $541,000 less in FY 2012 and $1.207 million less in FY 2013. That is a new cut of $1.7 million in state aid over the next two years. This causes great concern for us, and it underscores the urgent need for the Aug. 2 levy."

Additional information regarding the PLSD's position on its budget and the upcoming levy is available at www.pickerington.k12.oh.us.

While the district scrambles for support, at least two citizens' groups have come out in opposition to the levy.

The Pickerington Patriots, who maintain a website at www.pickeringtonpatriots.org, point to the district's new, two-year contract with the Pickerington Education Association, which represents PLSD teachers, as proof the district doesn't need the levy.

The contract, which district officials say will save the district $6.2 million and freeze teachers' base salaries for two years while also freezing step increases for one year, is affordable, according to the Patriots.

"Basically, they've got enough money to cover the new contract with the teachers, so they're not in the red," said Andy Russ, an attorney for the Pickerington Patriots. "A lot of folks in the community are facing troubling economic times.

"If we go four years down the road from here, (the district) is going to be in a deficit again. They're not trying to control their costs at all."

Russ, who said the Patriots consist of 80 to 85 members, said his group is not pleased with the decision-making of the school board. He said the Patriots philosophically oppose tax increases.

"We're opposed to any tax increase at all," he said. "We just think the school district is being unrealistic and not at all taking into account the economic times."

Another group opposed to the levy is Eye On Pickerington Local Schools Finances. According to the group's website, ionplsd.com, the district is guilty of mismanaging funds.

"The time has come for PLSD to start living within their means by controlling their spending costs and to stop balancing their budgets at the expense of the taxpayers," the site states. "Fiscal mismanagement by the PLSD leadership has resulted in a $4.8 million deficit in FY 2010 and a $5 million deficit in FY 2011. The FY 2012 deficit is now projected to be $2.7 million and the FY2013 deficit is projected to be $4.8 million. These deficits will continue to grow enormously in the years beyond unless spending is controlled."

Another citizens' group called Vote FOR Pick Kids is supporting the levy. According to that group's website, www.voteforpickkids.com, the district doesn't have sustainable revenue despite significant budget cuts.

"The bottom line is that the PLSD can no longer rely on the state of Ohio to provide adequate funding for its 10,600 students," the Vote FOR Pick Kids' website states. "The reality, therefore, is that our school district must recognize additional revenue sources in order to prepare our children for the future.

"This levy will sustain the daily operations of the district as well as address class sizes, expand the newly implemented science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes at the seven through 12-grade level, and also restore some of the district's intervention services."