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03-03-04: Grand Lake tax issues all passed

Voters in Mercer, Auglaize counties OK school issues


School district voters in Mercer and Auglaize counties passed all school levies to help balance budgets and offset million-dollar reduction plans that included layoffs, no sports and limited busing.
The levies in the area passed by 59 percent for Celina, 63 percent for St. Henry and St. Marys and 62 percent for Parkway.
Property and income tax issues were on the ballot in 207 of the state’s 612 school districts, 10 of which put two issues on the ballot. The Department of Education said only two elections in the past 10 years have had more ballot issues.
Many school officials are blaming state cuts in school funding for why their districts had to ask voters from more money.
In the Lima area, school levies passed for Allen East, Shawnee, Lima city, Bluffton and Delphos schools, but failed in the Bath school district.
In the last decade, Ohio voters faced 4,369 school issues and approved 2,515, a passing rate of 58 percent. Statewide results for Tuesday’s election were expected later today.
Celina City Schools
A new 9.7-mill operating levy passed strongly in all but five of the 21 precincts involved. Vote count was 3,608 for the levy and 2,491 against.
Voters nixed the levy in Center, Liberty, Franklin East and West and Washington townships.
The levy will generate $2.65 million per year for the next three years. If the levy had failed, the school board was planning $1.8 million in immediate cuts, which included cutting all extracurricular activities. The district already made $790,300 in cuts to keep the budget in line after reductions in state funding.
“The community is willing to do what they have to do, even though they don’t understand all the nuts and bolts of school funding,” school board President Mary Lehman said.
Amid hugs and high fives at the Mercer County Courthouse on Tuesday night, teachers, administrators and friends of the district congratulated each other after the short but powerful levy campaign.
“I am absolutely elated for the district and for the community. Passing this levy allows us time to assess our needs and resources as we continue with budget reductions and analyzing priorities,” district Superintendent Fred Wiswell said.
St. Marys City Schools
Voters overwhelmingly ap-proved a new 7.9-mill property tax by a 63-37 percent vote. The levy will generate about $1.8 million annually for five years.
“We are delighted with the turnout,” Superintendent Paul Blaine said Tuesday night. “Today the St. Marys voters did what they have done consistently for over 100 years. They supported their children.”
The vote marked a complete reversal of the November 2003 election, when a 1 percent income tax levy was defeated by a 61-39 percent count. That levy would have generated approximately $2.1 million.
“I heard more positive things about this levy and felt more confident,” Blaine said. “I think one of the keys was people saw how significant the cuts would be.”
If the levy had failed, school board members were planning $5.1 million in staffing and curriculum cuts. Those cuts included a reduction in transportation for about 1,150 students and closing Noble Elementary School.
The levy passed in all 14 voting precincts with the exception of St. Marys City fourth ward, where it failed by a 191-124 vote, and in Moulton Township where it lost 111-113.
Moulton Elementary School, which board members already decided will close at the end of the school year, was among the $3.6 million in cuts made in January.
“It’s not easy to face the closing of a school,” Blaine said. “But people of the Moulton community have handled it in a reasonable manner.”
St. Henry Consolidated
Local Schools
After defeating the school levy in November, St. Henry voters gave thumbs up Tuesday to the school district’s new 9.52-mill operating levy, which will generate $730,000 per year for five years.
Although the vote hung at a 59-59 vote tie for most of the evening, late tallies put the levy ahead 1,093 to 615 in Mercer County, with only the Butler Township precinct voting against the levy. The school district’s two precincts in Darke County also rejected the levy 44-42, which was not enough to change the outcome.
“Wow! This is a huge relief. It’s been a long four months for all of us. A lot of people have done a lot of work on this campaign,” district Superintendent Rod Moorman said Tuesday night at the courthouse as the final votes came in.
“We still have cuts to make. But now we have a little time to look at where we are and what needs to be done,” he said.
School board members already cut $649,991 this school year due to unanticipated reductions in school funding.
Parkway Local Schools
Superintendent Doug Karst said he was feeling “pretty good” this morning, following renewal of the school district’s 1.5-mill levy for permanent improvements.
“It was pretty suspenseful last night and I wish the results would have come in quicker. I listened over the radio until about 10:30 p.m. and it sounded like we were in pretty good shape, but I didn’t know for sure until this morning that the levy had passed,” he said.
The final tally showed 829 votes (62.8 percent) for the levy and 502 votes (37.72 percent) against.
The levy failed in the Mendon village and Union Township precincts.
The five-year levy will bring in approximately $103,000 annually for improvements or purchases, such as buses and computers.
“This is going to help the district. It is money we have counted on in the past,” Karst said, cautioning that he still sees tough times ahead for the district.
“At this point we haven’t had to ask for any new operating money, but somewhere in the future I can see that happening. We’re trying to postpone that as long as we can. If the state were to come through, maybe we won’t have to, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm,” Karst said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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