SWCS looks at what to do next after levy failure
Residents in the South-Western City School District voted against the 8.3-mill tax levy in early May. Now district leaders are trying to figure out the next step.
The district held a community meeting on May 11 at Central Crossing High School before the regular board of education meeting. Residents, parents and students packed the school's gymnasium. Students sported T-shirts that said "We Were the Levy; We Had a Future."
The objective was to gather input on whether residents wanted to see an issue on the August ballot. The people in attendance had other questions. They wanted answers on why athletics and extracurricular activities had to be cut. They wanted to know if the district would support a pay to participate policy.
Treasurer Hugh Garside explained with the failure of Issue 15, the district has to eliminate $8 million from its budget for the next school year. If an issue is not passed this year, the district would get no new tax dollars in 2010. Garside said the employees have taken pay freezes, but the district is still spending more than they are bringing in.
For next year, the district plans to close Harrisburg Elementary School and the Kingston School. Those students would be relocated to other buildings. All extracurricular activities and athletics have been eliminated and the buildings will close shortly after the students leave. About 60 positions have also been cut.
Randy Reisling, board member, said he doesn't see any other option than to go back to the voters.
"I think we have to be on the ballot this year, no matter what," Reisling said. "I don't know where we go if we have to cut more."
An August issue?
If the district were to move forward with a summer levy, the board would have to pass two resolutions and file with the Franklin County Board of Elections by May 21.
According to the board of elections, it would cost the district approximately $85,000 to hold a special election for the issue on Aug. 4.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said the district will close all facilities on June 5. He said if voters pass a levy in August, the district would "reinstate sports and extracurricular activities to the best of our ability."
Wise said, "I can't promise everything will be the same in the fall if a summer levy passes."
Grove City High School junior Lindsey Allmon tearfully begged the board to put the issue back on the ballot this summer. She is involved in music and drama and said she cannot imagine her life without those activities.
"I can't take back what the voters did," said Allmon, "but I can't go through my senior year like this."
She added, "If the board agrees to put the issue on the ballot, everyone in Grove City will see my face at their door and they will know who they said no to."
Many of those in attendance at the meeting said they would be in favor of a August issue. On May 2, residents voted against the four-year tax levy 56 percent to 44 percent.
Residents filled out surveys. The board said they would review the results of the survey to determine if they should place a levy on the Aug. 4 ballot.
Pay to participate
Residents and students made it clear - they want a pay to participate option instead of cuts to athletics and extracurricular activities.
Wise said right now, pay to participate is not an option.
"Different boards looked at the option and rejected it," said Wise. "The current board rejected it."
The superintendent said there are lost opportunities, even in pay to participate. He explained the costs just do not cut it.
Garside said in order to be cost effective, it would cost between $700 and $800 per student if the district went to a pay to participate system.
Parents said the choice should be theirs and most said they would be willing to pay the fee. Students asked administration how they were to get into college without extra activities on their school application.
Wise responded, "The community needs to step forward to give students those opportunities."
James Spring II, a Central Crossing student, asked the board if they know what it's like to work so hard for something to have it all taken away.
Spring is active in music and drama. He is upset the board is enacting the extracurricular cuts.
"I would not be in school without music and theater. It's what keeps me alive," he said.
Pat Matthews, a senior citizen, said despite what some think, the seniors did not fail the levy. She said she has always supported the schools.
She said the district has to find a way to get to the parents, because not all of them are voting.
"What the parents need to realize is that the property tax would be cheaper than pay to play," said Matthews.
The board of education will meet on May 18 at 7 p.m. at the District Service Center.
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