Groveport Madison levy fails

It was close, but no victory for Groveport Madison Local Schools.

Voters defeated the district’s 8.06 mill, three year replacement operating levy by 304 votes. According to unofficial results, there were 7,995 votes (51 percent) against the levy and 7,691 (49 percent) for it.
What happened

"It surprised me," said levy committee co-chair Larry Ricchi. "We won the direct vote on Nov. 4, but lost the absentee ballot vote by 865 votes."

Ricchi noted absentee voters, who voted early, did not see ads for the levy that were published closer to Election Day. They also only received one levy mailing prior to their voting, while voters on Nov. 4 had seen pro-levy ads and received two levy campaign mailers.

"It raises the issue of whether we need to reconsider our approach to campaigns," said Ricchi.

He added that the state of the nation’s economy probably played a role in the levy’s defeat.

"We had to overcome some rough financial conditions," said Ricchi.

In a statement issued Nov. 5, Superintendent Scott McKenzie said, "I extend my heartfelt thanks to our two Issue 77 levy chairpersons Rita Beck and Larry Ricchi. Their tireless dedication to the campaign was refreshing and their desire to do what was right for our kids was tremendous…I know it is hard to say, but I am almost certain that the failure of this levy had a lot more to do with the state of our economy than homeowners’ feelings about our district. Hopefully, Larry and Rita will not hang their heads for their effort or commitment, but rather understand that there were more powerful forces, on a much broader scale, that worked against our  small, local levy campaign."

The numbers

The levy would have generated $6.4 million a year and would have replaced the existing three year, 5.46 mill emergency renewal levy, which was first passed in 1997 and will expire Dec. 31, 2009.

Ricchi said it will be the school board’s decision on whether to institute cuts or to return to the ballot with another levy request.

"But I think the district will have to go back to the ballot," said Ricchi. "(With the loss of the levy) it’ll have a decreased revenue stream because 2009 is the last year of the existing levy, which means $4.5 million annually will come off."

In his Nov. 5 statement, McKenzie noted, "Failure of the levy will not immediately reduce the property tax funding that our district currently receives this school year. Levy failure will, however, ensure that the district is in a financial deficit this year because of two basic factors. First, we must pay back over $750,000 that was allotted to our district last year due to a state calculation error. Secondly, while our enrollment calculation is not yet official, all indications point to the fact that we have at least 250 fewer students this year than last. Fewer students means that our state funding could be reduced by $1.6 million or more this school year as reflected."
Continued McKenzie, "Negative funding factors will force us to generate many tough questions about the level of our educational program and the depth of services that we provide to the students of our district.  Any way you look at it, we will most certainly need to reduce our expenditures."

The 8.06 mill levy would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home approximately $247 a year in property taxes, which is about a $79 increase over the existing levy. The increase would have been $6.64 per month.

According to Groveport Madison Treasurer Anthony Swartz, the existing levy was designed to generate $4.5 million annually for the district and originally assessed homeowners 9.5 mills, but that has decreased over the years as the existing 5.46 mills now generate the same amount of money because, as values drop, the millage changes to generate the same amount of revenue.

Had the voters approved the 8.06 mill levy, the district’s finances would have remained on the positive side of the accounting ledger for the next three years before facing an operating loss.

However, with the rejection of the 8.06 mill levy, the district could be in the hole by about $890,840 by fiscal year 2010.

Additional revenue from the 8.06 mill levy would have helped the district deal with the increasing costs of operations as well as help offset the more than $750,000 the district has to pay back to the state as a result of the state’s miscalculations of Groveport Madison’s share of state school funding. It would have also helped pay for utility bills, salaries, educational materials, classroom technology, and tutoring, building maintenance, student transportation, and extra-curricular activities.

"Scott McKenzie is leading a strong team of administrators and teachers in the district and I hope people in the district will still support the educational efforts," said Ricchi. "The district is making real progress, but now it’ll be in a crunch."

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