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APS seeking new operating levy in November

7/26/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

Voters will see 7.9-mill levy  on ballot

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education decided on 7.9 mills for its levy on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.

The board debated amounts from 7.8 mills to 10.85 mills at the July 23 meeting, based on financial figures presented by Treasurer Jack Pierson. He said 1 mill currently raises approximately $2.44 million.

The levy that was narrowly defeated this past November was a 5.5-mill issue. This November’s levy needs to be larger for three reasons, board members said: First, property values have continued to depreciate, providing less tax revenue. Second, since the 2011 levy failed, there has been no new tax revenue in 2012. And third, as board member Lisa Mansfield pointed out, “We don’t know what Columbus will do next year,” referring to state support for the district.

Board member Patrick Bravo added, “Based on recent history, it’s [state funding] probably not going to be in our favor.”

A 10.85-mill levy, which would bring in nearly $26.5 million per year, would keep the APS in the black through fiscal year 2016, Pierson said. Board members agreed, however, that it would be too high for many voters. It would cost the owner of a $75,000 house (the average home value in Akron, according to Pierson) an additional $20.70 per month.

The debate came down to the 7.9-mill levy, which would cost the typical homeowner $15 more per month, and the 8.5-mill levy, which would cost an additional $16.22 per month, according to district officials. The 7.9-mill levy would generate $19.28 million per year, leaving the district needing to make around another $9 million in cuts next year to balance the budget. The 8.5-mill would bring in $20.7 million and require another $6.25 million in budget cuts, said Pierson.

The district has made more than $22 million in cuts this school year, including closing three elementary schools. Superintendent David James listed a number of programs in the schools — the new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) high school opening up this fall and the Globe program that helps students learn science, along with numerous other initiatives — that might have to be reduced or eliminated if the levy does not pass.

“We can’t do this work by ourselves — we need the community’s help,” said James. “We’ve worked hard making cuts. The next round would have to be drastic and severe. I don’t know if we could come up with enough cuts without new money.”

Two weeks ago, the board eliminated 84 teaching positions. Mansfield pointed out the community hasn’t felt the affects of those cuts — that will come when school starts and there are fewer teachers, no middle school sports, fewer custodians, etc., she said.

In the end, the decision came down to marketing. Board member Tim Miller said 7.9 mills is “more sellable” to voters than 8.5 mills, in the same way that $9.99 seems cheaper than $10 psychologically.

Mansfield agreed, saying, “Call it the Wal-Mart factor,” and added the district would still need to make cuts with the passage of a 7.9-mill levy.

The vote was 5-1 for the 7.9-mill levy, with Bruce Alexander opposed (the Rev. Curtis Walker was absent). Alexander favored the larger levy millage.

Board President Jason Haas said the board needed to find a balance, a happy medium, “an amount the community will support.”

“We made $22 million to $24 million in cuts this year and will have to do about the same next year with no new money,” he said. “It’s a big, big chunk. We’ve plucked off the pretty feathers and are down to the bone now. We’re at the point where cuts are classroom cuts.”

The board held a special meeting July 25 to take the second vote required to place the issue on the November ballot.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for Aug. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway in Downtown Akron.

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