School levies fail for 4th time

Residents of Portage County look at posted absentee ballot results last night at the Portage County Board of Elections in Ravenna. The results included votes for local levies, local races and state issues.

Credit: Ben Breier

RAVENNA – For the fourth time in just over a year, levies for the Southeast and Crestwood school districts have failed.

Issue 52 was defeated 2,613 to 1,754, or 59.84 to 40.16 percent.

“It’s bittersweet,” Southeast superintendent Linda Fuline said. “I’m extremely disappointed we lost. But on the positive side, we’ve made a lot of progress and changed a lot of minds.”

While the crowd at the Portage County Board of Elections tapered off late in the night, Southeast supporters remained strong at the midnight hour, hoping its four-year, 8.9-mill emergency levy would finally pass. Early absentee votes showed only about 20 percent in favor of the levy. The news didn’t get any better for the levy supporters the rest of the night. Now, Southeast’s fears have become realities.

The five-school district has closed all three of its libraries. The libraries will remain closed until the levy passes. The school also will be unable to purchase new textbooks and will be unable to update the busing system.

The district will also have to cut additional teaching positions. Nineteen administrative positions have been eliminated or not replaced since June 2001. Fuline said elementary art, music and physical education positions will be cut Jan. 23. The district will also cut a part-time high school art teacher position.

The support of the levy, which was more than 40 percent, was an increase from August 2004, when the levy was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin.

The increased community support leaves Fuline optimistic about February, when the levy will go back on the ballot. But yesterday’s failure will bring state involvement, beginning in December.

District treasurer Paul Wulff said the state will do a review of the district, more than likely putting it in “fiscal caution.”

That is the first step to fiscal emergency, he added.

If the levy continues to fail, the district faces about a $1.5 million deficit in fiscal year 2007. The district will also continue its pay-to-participate program for athletics and all-day kindergarten classes. It also faces about eight additional cuts by May 2006 if the levy does not pass by then.

The Crestwood School levy failed by a razor-thin margin for the fourth time in a year. Superintendent Joe Iacono said that although he was disappointed by the 2633-2434 vote, he is hopeful that a levy will eventually pass.

“In all the other votes we lost by a 60/40 margin,” he said. “On this one we lost 49/51. Although I’m very disappointed, there’s a glimmer of hope that our message is getting through to voters.”

The 4.93 mill levy would have added $1.375 million to the Crestwood budget every year for five years.

The failure of the levy will result in about 15 teachers losing their jobs. There will also be cuts among the administrative and sports staff, lacono said. The cuts will result in class size increasing to about 30 students. Other cuts include reduced funding for the lunch program, and buildings closing before 4 p.m. to save on heating and custodial bills.

This levy campaign was more successful than the previous three because Crestwood targeted likely “yes” voters with an educational campaign, said Dean Hugebeck, co-chair of the levy committee.

Iacono said he believed the greatest factor to the failure of the levies is the lack of jobs.

“Whenever we do polls, the greatest reason for the failure of the levy is the economic situation,” he said.

Crestwood has already cut back on expenses because of the failure of previous levies. Crestwood no longer provides busing for students who live within two miles of a school, and students must pay $300 dollars to participate in sports or extracurricular activities.

Iacono said he anticipates that an 8 to 9 mill levy will appear on the ballot in May. If no levies pass in 2006, Crestwood’s finances may be taken over by the state.

Although the work is hard and disappointing, Hugebeck said he believes in giving back to the community.

“Somebody paid for our education when we were young,” he said. “I believe it’s time for us to pay for theirs.”

Contact public affairs reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected]. Contact academics reporter Amanda Garrett at [email protected].