Written by DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 09:28
MILLBURY - The final piece of the Lake School District's recovery from a 2010 tornado is in place.
The passing of new operating money on Tuesday - not the opening of the new high school - signals it's finally time to move on, said Tim Krugh, board of education president.
"The building's not the last piece of recovery from this whole mess, this whole tragedy. It was to (regain) some basic financial standing for the schools," Krugh said.
The 6.75-mill, three-year levy passed Tuesday with 1,501 votes (52 percent) in favor, and 1,364 votes (48 percent) in opposition, according to unofficial results from the Wood County Board of Elections.
The levy, which will generate $1.47 million annually, will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17 a month.
The Lake board and administration constantly reminded voters that there was a need for new operating money before June 5, 2010, when a tornado leveled the high school.
Since then, two levy requests have been rejected, and the new high school slowly went up, finally opening to the public on Sunday.
Superintendent Jim Witt said the good public relations most likely led to some good feelings at the polls.
"I think that probably helped. I would think if you left there Sunday and didn't feel good about the schools and the kids, you needed to have your pulse checked," he said after the election results Tuesday.
Lake voters twice rejected a 4.75-mill operating levy last year, meaning no new money could be collected in 2012.
Faced with a $1.1 million budget hole, the board voted to cut 43 positions and the all-day everyday kindergarten program, to close a deficit looming in 2013. The board also approved closing Walbridge Elementary and selling the 90-year-old building and property.
Those cuts are permanent, Krugh said Tuesday.
"Even with this passing, no, at this point there's no plans to bring back any of those things we cut.
"This was necessary just to keep us above water," he said.
"This will allow us to take a deep breath and continue on our main mission, to provide the best education we can at the lowest cost possible, which we've been doing."
If no new money was approved this year, the district was expected to have a $2 million deficit at the end of 2013.
Lake has lost $1.6 million this year in state and federal funds, plus $1.2 million that last year's levy requests would have brought in.
Krugh and Witt said a combination of factors contributed to the levy passing Tuesday.
Business owners - not the board - ran the levy campaign. They had a somewhat harsh message: It's time for Lake residents to help themselves.
In a new contract approved last week, Lake teachers agreed to pay freezes, including step, and to pay more for their health insurance.
The cuts, such as the layoffs and the kindergarten program, probably resonated with voters, too, Krugh said.
"I think all of it. We finally got the attention of those who support the Lake schools," he said. "People realize that we're basically out of money."
The board still planned to meet late Tuesday and continue steps to place the same 6.75-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Krugh said the board will cover its bases in case there are any changes with Tuesday's vote count.