Thursday, September 27, 2012
West Geauga Schools Board of Education decided to stand behind its levy decision.
In a special session Wednesday afternoon, the board agreed to keep its 2.75-mill additional permanent improvement levy on the November ballot.
The discussion came after questions were raised during the board’s regular meeting Monday about keeping the proposed five-year levy on during difficult economic times.
“We’ve gathered information from the (Geauga County) Board of Elections. The ballots are at print, so it can’t be removed,” said Superintendent Geoff Palmer. “But, it still could be withdrawn by the board of elections. It would appear on the ballot, there would be signs posted at each polling location as well as inserts in any request for absentee ballots saying Issue 26 has been removed and votes will not be counted.”
However, after informing the board of its options, Palmer said he, Treasurer Michele Tullai and Operations Manager Jim Russo all met after talking with levy campaign Chairwoman Becky Finnick and decided to recommend the board stay on the ballot and pursue the levy.
“I had a real positive day Monday and Tuesday hitting up some local businesses and meetings, and the outcome is that they think it would be foolish at this point, if it’s already printed on the ballot,” Finnick said. “After some in depth conversation with them, they even stepped up and offered to help so that was a positive thing. I have almost 10 or even a dozen people now willing to step up, attend events, hand out fliers, do whatever it takes. That gave me a little better hope.”
Palmer said he has also encountered other organizations, such as the West Geauga Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, offering their support and willing to help.
Board member Michael Kilroy also emphasized while the PI levy would be “new” money, it would cost homeowners less than a 23-year bond issue the district has paid off five years early because of “refinancing and good fiscal stewardship.”
The 1994 bond issue, which passed at 3.75 mills, now only collects at about 3 mills, Tullai said.
The five-year, 2.75-mill permanent improvement levy would cost residents $84.22 annually per $100,000 property valuation and yield $1,724,027 each year, according to the Geauga County Auditor’s Office.
So, technically, people would be paying a quarter of a mill less than they’ve been paying, since the bond issue will be paid off in November, Tullai explained.
“It sounds like we stay the course and do the best job that we can, realizing the time is limited and we get as many resources mobilized as we can and give it the best shot we can,” board President Bill Beers said after hearing the administration’s recommendation.
In his written statement, Beers added the board fully understands the challenges of a difficult economy.
“In fact, those same challenges have resulted in the district’s decision to make reductions in staff and programming totaling $1.7 million over the past few years,” he wrote. “Those reductions have allowed the district to ‘steady the ship’ relating to operating expenditures, however, the significance of permanent improvement needs, including the roofing issues, must be addressed now.”
Russo broke down how the money would be spent so voters know exactly where it would go in a five-year plan — which includes several roof replacements — but cautioned the board on trying to sway negative voters.
“Having been through many, many levy issues ... I have found that your negative voters, it’s very hard to dissuade a negative voter into a positive. They will persist in distorting the facts. Not that they don’t necessarily know the facts, they’re persistent in distorting the facts. That’s a very tough nut to crack quite frankly.”
Kilroy also asked Palmer what the next steps would be if the levy fails.
“If this fails, what would be the strategy going forward because we have (talk) out there about ballot fatigue ... having a new superintendent, having heard a lot of ideas ... about what could be, should be done regarding the school district’s interaction with the community to show the working back and forth,” he said.
Palmer said regardless of the outcome of this election, which is to address “clear permanent improvement needs in the district,” they’ve “steadied the ship” operationally and this is the next logical step in taking on those needs.
“But one way or the other, I firmly believe ... my hope is the next logical step, win or lose, is to develop and continue with a formalized strategic planning process and to let that process better guide direction as to the community’s input and involvement in many of the decisions throughout the district, and not just going back on the ballot and not just how we talk to them or how to involve them, but have them building around the three goals that you as a board, have established: curriculum instruction, communications and collaboration and facilities.
Depending on the amount of involvement, Palmer said a strategic plan could be done in three to four months, or if it’s on a larger scale, six months.
Board member Jackie Dottore added, “We have to stop talking about getting our word out. We have to do it.”