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APS officials stress importance of levy

10/11/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

The Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education will vote on its revised five-year financial forecast at its next meeting.

Akron Public Schools (APS) Treasurer Jack Pierson had no good news to report when he presented the draft of the forecast at the Oct. 8 board meeting.

If Issue No. 61 — the district’s 7.9-mill emergency operating levy on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot — passes, by the end of fiscal year 2014 the district will still need to make another $12 million in budget cuts. This would be on top of the $22 million the board members have cut this year, everything from staff to programs and supplies in addition to closing three schools.

The board members agreed several months ago that a levy large enough to get the APS out of debt for the next five years would have little chance of passing and decided instead on the more realistic 7.9-mill amount, even though it will not totally solve the district’s financial problems.

But the revenue keeps decreasing — such as the unexpected $3.2 million in tax revenue lost through the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) announced two weeks ago — compounding the financial problems, according to district officials.

“Our revenue has decreased significantly since fiscal year 2010,” Pierson said.

If the levy does not pass, however, the board members will have to find another $28 million to cut somewhere from the district’s budget. The following year, without new money, they would need to cut an additional $7 million, Pierson said.

By the end of the five-year forecast cycle, board President Jason Haas said, $39 million in cuts would be required.

“It’s going to be hard to stay out of fiscal emergency if the levy fails,” he said.

When a school district falls into fiscal emergency, the state comes in and makes the necessary cuts for it, he said.

The board members, along with APS administrators, have been out nearly every night speaking to groups about the urgency of passing the levy, Haas said.

The money being spent to build new community learning center/schools around town cannot be used for operating expenses. The Ohio School Facilities Commission is funding 59 percent of the new construction and renovation, with the rest coming from a voter-approved 0.25 percent Akron city income tax.

In other business, APS received a check for $10,000 from the Dominion Foundation to help fund an innovative science program, “Outside Is In.” It’s done through a collaboration among the APS, Metro Parks Serving Summit County, Friends of Metro Parks and CYO Camp Christopher.

Christine Freitag, president of Friends of Metro Parks, said the group has secured grants to make it possible since 2008. That year, 40 sixth-graders enjoyed an overnight experience in the parks. This fall, Freitag said, 700 sixth-graders will get the chance.

Sharon Wilson Seaton, from Dominion, called it “an exceptional program,” especially since it’s accomplished through the partnership of the organizations.

APS Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams said 100 students at a time are taken to Camp Christopher and the Metro Parks, where they see the science of ecology outside of textbooks and the classroom and learn in a natural setting.

The program satisfies state requirements for the sixth-grade science curriculum, emphasizing direct exposure to nature, getting exercise and eating healthy food.

This fall’s program is under way, she said. “The students love it,” she added.

At each school board meeting, an APS student begins the meeting by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. The young people who are chosen are exemplary students in their schools, according to district officials. At the Oct. 8 meeting, William Leach, a fourth-grader at Resnik Community Learning Center, led the group in the Pledge.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for Oct. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway in Downtown Akron.

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