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Coventry announces deep cuts if issue fails

3/7/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Board schedules March 13 community meetings

COVENTRY — The Portage Lakes Fitness Center would be closed, the music program axed and teaching positions eliminated if voters living in the Coventry Local School District defeat the district’s issue on the May 7 Primary/Special Election ballot.

“These are not threats,” said Superintendent Russell Chabody. “These will take effect if the issue fails.”

The Coventry Local Schools Board of Education held a special meeting March 4 to approve a list of cuts that would take effect at the start of the 2013-14 school year if a combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue is defeated for a third time.

About 100 district residents attended the meeting to hear how the district plans to save about $600,000 next school year.

“It would be nice to have this kind of turnout at every board meeting so you have a personal knowledge of what is going on,” said board President Dave Andrews to the crowd to start the evening.

At the close of the one-and-a-half-hour-long meeting, which included a financial presentation and a lengthy public comment portion, the board approved a list of cuts recommended by Chaboudy.

If the issue fails, the board first would shut down the fitness center in the high school building, as it no longer generates the revenue it once did, Chaboudy told the audience. He explained the district has not been able to fund improvements at the facility but may be able to do so if the ballot issue is approved.

One administrator and five music teachers would lose their jobs as part of the cuts, as well, the superintendent said.

The entire music program would not exist in the 2013-14 school year if the levy is defeated. This means there would be no elementary music classes, middle or high school choirs or high school marching band, Chaboudy explained.

In addition, the eliminations would include letting go of one custodian, three lunch aides and five bus drivers, in keeping with the state-minimum busing program, Chaboudy said. This would result in busing offered only to kindergarten through eighth-grade students and only if they reside more than 2 miles away from their school buildings. He said there would be no high school busing.

In respect to athletics, there no longer would be middle school and freshman sports, and the cheerleading program for seventh through 12th grades would end, the superintendent announced. Also, the pay-to-play fee for high school athletes would be increased by $50, he said.

Money also would be saved through the elimination of building usage by outside organizations, including youth sports leagues, Chaboudy said. The buildings would close one hour after the regular school day, except for special events or high school athletics, he said.

“It is with a heavy heart that we approve these cuts,” said board member Tina Gable. “Each one is painful. This affects the kids and hurts entire programs, and kids will suffer for this.”

Board member Vicki Tavenier said the cuts are nothing the board takes lightly.

“This will affect my kids as well as yours,” she said. “This is nothing that we want to do. We have to have money to fix and repair these buildings.”

Voters are being asked to approve the 34-year bond and levy issue to fund the construction of a new high school and numerous improvements necessary at the district’s other facilities.

District officials have said the funding specifically is needed to address serious maintenance issues inside the aged and deteriorating school buildings.

The same measure failed by 58 percent of the vote Feb. 5 and 53 percent Aug. 7, 2012, according to the Summit County Board of Elections.

Chaboudy said May 7 would be the district’s last attempt to get the measure approved. If the combined issues fails, the district would forfeit the $11 million being offered by the Ohio School Facilities Commission toward the proposed $39.3 million construction and renovation project.

The 34-year bond issue and levy would cost $15.29 a month for someone younger than 65 who owns a home valued at $100,000, Treasurer Aaron Butts has said. The cost for someone older than 65 who owns a $100,000 home would be $11.47 per month, he said.

The superintendent addressed those in attendance to explain what led the board to place the issue on the ballot for a third time. He asked the voters to understand the district has two options: increase revenue or decrease spending.

The district has been in the pattern of making cuts to continue operating without the state funding once received and avoid putting the burden of new taxation on the voters, Chaboudy explained.

Despite $1.6 million in cuts in 2012, the district continues to be rated an “Excellent With Distinction” school district by the state, he said.

“Our administrators and teachers are among the lowest paid in Summit County, yet we continue to be at the top academically,” Chaboudy said.

According to the superintendent, the district’s academic achievements will slide due to the next round of cuts, however.

He talked a great deal about the expensive maintenance issues the district faces daily, including outdated boilers, leaky roofs, falling tiles and frigid classrooms. Chaboudy said the bond and permanent improvement levy would allow the district to permanently correct these problems.

According to Chaboudy, voters would see a new, larger issue — most likely a 9.5-mill emergency levy — on the ballot in November, if the May 7 issue is defeated. If that issue is defeated, he said the state would take over, making cuts and placing even larger issues on future ballots.

Following Chaboudy’s remarks, Butts addressed some of the “financial myths” circulating in the district.

He explained the district has “not mismanaged funds.” He displayed numerous charts, one showing the district spends less per pupil than every other school district in Summit County except Manchester Local Schools, which is half the size of Coventry.

Butts also addressed the issue of open enrollment and explained the district chooses to offer the program because open-enrolled students bring in more state funding than students residing in the district. He said 13 percent of Coventry students chose to leave the district through open enrollment in 2013. Butts believes this is due to failing facilities.

According to Butts, numerous residents have complained about their taxes being “the highest in the county.” However, he said the township is below the county average for what they pay in taxes, and only 56 percent of current taxes goes to the school district. If the issue were approved, however, 59 percent of taxes collected would go toward the district, Butts said.

He said the combined issue would help the district increase revenue, decrease expenses associated with maintenance issues and help the district keep a positive balance in the General Fund for the next five years.

Following Butts’ presentation, numerous people spoke in support of the combined issue, urging others to vote in favor of the matter May 7.

“We need to do this,” said parent Heather Oakes. “The buildings are a mess. They are disgusting.”

Andrews said students should not have to go to school in 2013 to have rain falling on their heads while they sit at their desks.

“We owe it to them,” he said. “They deserve to have a place that is warm, dry and conducive to a good learning environment.”

Resident Ron Adams said he believes property values in the township would significantly decline if the issue fails again.

“Why can’t we just do it for our kids? Let’s pull together to support our kids and our teachers, who are awesome,” said parent Jenn Minor. “Stop moving backward.”

Resident Hugh Weinberg said he does care about the students of Coventry and their education, but he wants to see the levy defeated again. He was the only person to speak out against the ballot issue during the meeting and said he did so because he is against higher taxes that he would pay for 34 years.

“I can’t afford higher taxes,” he said.

Several residents urged the board to come up with a way to “sell” the issue to more voters.

Volunteer high school wrestling coach Scott Roller said he was not pleased only 27 percent of voters participated in the last election.

Chaboudy said the levy committee focused more on gaining parental support before the February election, but members are focused on educating the entire community about the importance of the combined issue this time around.

“This is about our community and the future of our community,” said board member Robert Wohlgamuth. “We need to start pulling together as a community. If it does pass, you will see a great deal of excitement in this entire community. It will transform the entire community. We will have something new to be proud of. We will have safe and secure buildings to be proud of. It will increase your property values, and people will want to come and bring their kids here.”

Chaboudy encouraged voters to get all of their questions and concerns addressed at one of two community meetings scheduled for March 13. The first meeting will take place at 10 a.m. at the Portage Lakes Kiwanis Building, 725 Portage Lakes Drive, and the second at 7 p.m. inside the high school auditorium, 3089 Manchester Road.

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