Thursday, August 21, 2014

Voters Leave Ledgemont Officials Saddened, Disappointed
November 6, 2013 by Cassandra Shofar | No Comments

Montville, Thompson voters resoundingly reject combined tax levy

A school district that has been hanging by a thread for quite some time felt the edge of the blade tonight.

Ledgemont Schools’ combined tax levy (Issue 32) — a 12.5-mill, five-year property tax levy and a permanent extension of a 1.25 percent earned income tax — was crushed at the ballot 1,007 to 693, according to the final unofficial results of the Geauga County Board of Elections.

Approximately 59 percent of the district’s 2,889 registered voters exercised their right to be heard.

Results of absentee voting foreshadowed another disappointing night for school supporters. The first reported votes of the evening had Issue 32 failing by a count of 108-66.

The levy was the financially beleaguered district’s last attempt to stay afloat amidst mounting debt and declining enrollment.

“It’s incredibly depressing,” said school board President Cathy Hadley-Samia. “The board of education is yet again profoundly disappointed by Montville and Thompson voters who have chosen to eschew their responsibilities to our communities’ kids. Mostly, though, we are sad for them, because our community continues to say to them that they do not matter.”

Hadley-Samia said she has no idea what more district supporters can do to convey their message.

“We’ve tried all different kinds of strategies, focusing on positive voters, focusing on all of the voters. We had good feedback from the information that we did disseminate this time, that people learned a lot of things,” she explained. “I don’t know what else to say.”

The board president said the district has no other option other than continuing to borrow money from the state.

“There is no other option,” Hadley-Samia added. “No other school district can take us with our debt, nor should they. I totally understand that.”

She said there will be another levy placed on a future ballot, even though school officials do not know when or for how much.

“Ledgemont’s doors are and will remain open to our community members who entrust us with their children,” she added.

Hadley-Samia also expressed thanks to the district’s teachers “for sticking with us and with our kids, and for always going above and beyond to support Ledgemont kids.”

Ledgemont — which slipped into fiscal emergency status in 2010 — received three loans from the state to date: $2.17 million in 2010-11, $1.677 million in 2011-12 and $1.114 million in 2012-13.

The district has repaid about $2.59 million out of its state foundation money, but still owes the state $2,371,750 and, at the end of the year, will need to borrow an additional $450,000. It already owes the state $6,134 per student.

Average teacher salaries at Ledgemont are easily the lowest in the county as is the average salary of district administrators, according to Ohio Department of Education figures.

Ledgemont — which currently has 460 students, the lowest in the county — has 77 more students this year enrolled elsewhere than it did last year, further bleeding the district of funding..

Longtime board member Rick Loveland, who won reelection Tuesday, said he was speechless.

“I just don’t know what to say,” he added.

Superintendent Julie Ramos said she was saddened with Tuesday’s results.

“The administrative team and levy committee will convene on the 18th to discuss the next steps, which will potentially include additional levy opportunities, partnerships, restructuring or consolidation,” she said. “In the meantime, Ledgemont staff is committed to provide the best education for the district’s students with a limited amount of funds.

“I am passionate about improving education for kids. My goal has always been to educate children in a supportive, kind and loving environment, where they are able to express themselves, dream for the future and learn about the world around them, their community and themselves.”

District Treasurer Belinda Grassi said her office would begin preparing “alternative solutions” to present to the school board.

“The solutions may not be ordinary or traditional, but our administrative team stands ready to consider any and all alternatives that may be presented, and no option will be ruled out until a full financial analysis of each is completed,” Grassi said. “No matter what option, however, the bottom line will remain what’s best for students above all else.”

This marks Ledgemont’s third attempt to pass a property tax levy in the last 12 months. A five-year, 14.7-mill tax levy failed in May by a vote of 891-596. In November 2012, voters defeated a five-year, 3.4-mill tax levy, 1,197-1,087.

Voters passed, 847-650, the current five-year, 1.25 percent earned income tax in May 2010. That same levy failed twice in 2009 and once in 2008 and 2007.

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