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school officials seek tax levy
|By SEAN RICE
The Daily Standard
Celina City Schools officials are asking district voters to go to the
polls on Nov. 5 with a sense of pride in Celina schools and pass a much needed income tax
Coming off a loss at the polls during the May primary election, school
board officials believe a five-year, 1 percent income tax is easier to swallow than the
permanent 1 percent tax that failed in May.
"I'm the first to recognize that this district is where it
is today - and it's an excellent school district - because of the collaborative and team
efforts of students, staff, teachers, administrators and community all working
together," Superintendent Fred Wiswell said. "And that source of pride that I
hope each community resident takes with them to the polls."
If the levy fails, the board will lose a second main funding source and
the district will have an estimated $2 million deficit going into the 2003 school year. In
2000, a 0.25 percent income tax levy expired and was not renewed. At the end of this year,
a 0.75 percent income tax levy expires.
"How I see is it we're renewing the 3/4 percent and replacing the
1/4 percent that expired in 2000," Wiswell said in a recent interview with The
Combined with uncertainties in state budget and state allocations the
school has a dismal outlook if the levy is not supported.
"Whenever you cut 2 million dollars out, it's just going to
devastate what we do," Wiswell said. "People have to know, this is where we are
right now. Time is running out on us."
"All we're asking for is to give us back what we had," board
Ken Fetters said during an interview with Wiswell and The Daily Standard.
While reluctant to discuss cuts at earlier stages in the levy process,
school officials now say cuts would have to be made if the levy fails to keep the district
The reduction in funds will likely cause immediate cuts in school
activities, with extra services not required by state law the first to feel the impact.
"These include most extracurricular and interscholastic sporting
activities as well as the elimination of all student fee subsidies," Wiswell said.
"In addition, reductions in transportation services for students to the minimum
limits required by the state would be seriously studied and considered."
Wiswell said those reductions would probably make up half of the loss
the district will experience if the levy fails. With 80 percent of the annual budget going
toward salaries, the remainder would have to be made up with personnel cuts, the
superintendent said. That would affect tutoring services that are offered and student
class sizes would increase. Also, any
repairs to buildings or purchases of new textbooks and equipment would be put on the back
Wiswell reluctantly recites the list of possible cuts, saying that
rather than running a negative campaign, he "hopes each and every voter goes to the
ballot box with a pro-active rather than a reactive mind set."
"I hope that people can look genuinely at what we have in place
and be motivated to support this," he said.
Wiswell points to the academic achievements the school has made in
recent years as reason to keep funding levels current. He also cites changes in the
school's leadership to provide an openness with the community as reason to support the
"The change of leadership in the central office and direction of
the school district have promoted an atmosphere of open communication and pride in our
schools," Wiswell said. "The board is working as a unit, and there's harmony
among the board, administration and staff."
The superintendent said he is proud the board of education, central
office, building administration, students and parents are working in the same direction
and from the same plan in a "positive, harmonious relationship."
"And that wasnąt happing five years ago," he said.
The levy would generate an estimated $3 million per year with $500,000
of the amount earmarked for permanent improvements.
The permanent improvement needs include a new roof, windows and a new
fire alarm system at East elementary school, new textbooks and computers and upgrades to
Wiswell said "the meat and potatoes" of the issue is Celina's
success as compared to similar schools and state averages, and the moderate cost Celina's
"People have to look at the measurable success that is a
characteristic of Celina City Schools," Wiswell said.
Officials point to the 26 of 27 performance standards achieved on the
2002 state report card as one yardstick for academic success. The district was one of only
71 schools in the state to achieve an "excellent" rating on the report card.
Of those 71 schools with excellent ratings, 47 pay more money per-pupil
than Celina, with 17 spending $9,059 to $16,449. The average was $8,023 per-pupil for the
group. Celina spends $6,901 per-pupil in education costs.
Officials also tout that Celina is the only district in the Western
Buckeye League (WBL) with an excellent rating and the only excellent district in Celina's
comparison group of 20 schools set up by the Ohio Department of Education.
Wiswell points out that Celina's student-teacher ratio is lower than
state average; teacher pay is $4,000 annually less than state average; student attendance
rates are above state average; the proficiency test passing rates are higher than state
average; and the graduation rate is higher than state average.
"And we're not going to be satisfied, we're not going to become complacent. We
know that we're not a perfect institution, and we know that we should be continually
striving for improvements," Wiswell said. "By no means are we going to sit back
and rest on our accomplishments."
School officials say they always seek ways to trim the annual budget.
"This particular board of education is financially
conservative, wherever we can cut a dollar, we will," Fetters said.
"People have asked us, 'why aren't you considering trimming
back, cutting the fat,' and we have," Wiswell said."Throughout the past year and
in planning for this school year there have been over $240,000 in reductions and
Wiswell and Fetters point to the removal of all vehicle leases that
held by the district administration - two cars and a pick-up truck - which
saved $8,000. The district saved $9,500 by reducing the use of legal counsel, and $45,000
was saved when one and a half teaching positions were removed. Remaining without an
assistant superintendent or a food service director also has saved the board $73,000.
"Now, obviously if the levy doesn't pass, it will impact areas,
seriously. It will impact instruction and the quality services that we offer kids,"
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