School officials ponder next steps after defeat of levies at 3 districts
The failure of three local school levies has administrators and school boards reassessing plans, including West Branch where the school board Wednesday morning decided against a second income tax levy attempt in February.
In the wake of an overwhelming opposition to the .75 percent continuous income tax, in which the district garnered just 23 percent of the vote, the West Branch school board unanimously voted against placing the same levy on the Feb. 4 special ballot.
If the board had wished to place the issue on the February ballot, it would have needed to approve it no later than Wednesday, according to schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart. The board scheduled the meeting to keep the possibility open, he said.
“By taking the action that [the board] took today, the school board has given themselves more time to meet and talk with voters before placing the same basic issue on the ballot in February of 2014,” he said in a written release. “The result of the election makes it clear that our voters need more time and more information before they will approve additional school funding for West Branch.”
Board President John Wallace noted in the press release that the board is entering a transition period, with a new board member, Eric Glista, joining the board in January, and that a February election would be too soon for a new member to act on the levy.
“The current school board thought that it was only fair to allow a new board member to have input on any future levy decisions,” he explained. “Had the current school board chosen to place the income tax on the ballot again as soon as February of 2014, then new board members coming on in January would find themselves facing a levy issue within a month after being elected.”
Faced with a significant shortfall of revenue from the state, the district must find an additional source of revenue, Weingart said.
“If we are to continue to offer the same level of service to our students and our community, then we will need additional revenue to make up for the shortfall from the state,” he said. “We will do our best to communicate with our residents, but there are really only two options for school boards when a school district’s revenues are cut. School boards can seek additional revenue from local residents, or they can reduce services and programs for students. The need is real and it is not going away. Still, the school board did not want to place a levy issue on the ballot again until residents have had further opportunities to meet and talk with district officials and the current school board.”
At South Range, school officials are taking a step back after seeing the district’s 4.8-mill, 10-year emergency levy fail with 34 percent of the vote.
“With challenges in front of us, we’ll need to regroup and rethink the direction of our programs and the fiscal direction over the next couple months,” schools Superintendent Dennis Dunham said. “We’re in a position where we’re trying to be proactive…to preserve and maintain the programs we have in place.”
Dunham noted that the district faces a projected $850,000 deficit in 2014-2015 and that even though drastic changes are not coming this year, future changes are certain although not outlined yet.
“The need is still there, so there will need to be some changes,” he said. “But as always it will be with the best interest of the children in mind.”
With over 42 percent, United garnered the highest percentage of affirmative votes in the area with its 3-mill continuous permanent improvement levy that would have generated $376,700 annually for long-term projects.
But the district, which had the same levy voted down by 200 votes in May, must still deal with the consequences of another failed attempt at funds.
“We are disappointed in the loss,” schools Superintendent Steve Viscounte said via e-mail. “We had to give the process due diligence, but people have to be comfortable putting their heads on their pillows at night.”
Viscounte said the board will finish up a few projects with the current permanent improvement funds and then determine the next course of action.
“For the cost of buying a few candy bars each month, we would have been able to renovate and repair the area of our facility that is between 50 and 60 years old,” he said. “I guess we will have to patch and run things.”