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10-23-02: Celina school officials seek tax levy
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 levy.
    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
Daily Standard.
    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 President
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 afloat.
    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 burner.
    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 schools.
    "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 school transportation.
    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 resident pay.
    "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 cost-saving measures."
    Wiswell and Fetters point to the removal of all vehicle leases that were
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," Wiswell said.


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
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P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822