Lakota levy fails for the third time in 18 months
WestChesterBuzz.com will count down the area’s top 11 stories of 2011 this month, concluding with West Chester’s most discussed topic of the year Dec. 30.
For the third time in the past 18 months, Lakota officials and supporters had a proposed school levy fail at the polls. Due to the failure, the school district is looking to slash $9 million from its operating budget for the 2012-2013 school year.
Lakota, which hasn’t passed a levy since 2005, had levies fail in May 2010, November 2010 and, now, in November 2011.
After the failure in 2010, the Lakota Board of Education approved a new teacher contract (three years and includes a freeze on step/longevity increases as well as health care concessions) and trimmed $10.2 million off its annual budget in 2011-2012.
In 2012, a decision on the $9 million in reductions has to be made by the spring.
The $9 million in cuts will allow Lakota to avoid its spending deficit in 2013, but does not take away the need for additional revenue, Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan said.
Regarding those potential cuts, Logan and Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia have recently told the community that the school district is currently in the analysis phase.
“We have to cut $9 million. That is not a great position to be in,” Mantia told the school board Nov. 28.
“These will be the conversations we have down the road … I don’t feel like speeding it up because someone wants an answer.”
In 2012, due to Ohio’s presidential primary, there will only be three election dates compared to the usual four. The school board was not interested in the March primary election date since the filing date (Dec. 7) was so close to November’s Election Day (Nov. 8).
The other election dates in Ohio in 2012 are scheduled for June and November.
It is not currently known if the school district will propose another tax levy in 2012. However, school officials have let it been known that Lakota is in dire need of additional revenue.
According to the Butler County Board of Elections, almost 54 percent of local residents voted down the levy, while just more than 46 percent voted in favor of the levy in 2011.
Overall, the response from voters was very similar to what it was in November of 2010 – when the levy was defeated by a 53 to 47 percent margin.
Sandy Wheatley, president of the private pro-levy group, told the Enquirer that this November’s failure had “a lot … to do with the economy.”
Rich Hoffman, president of the anti-school tax group NoLakota, told the Enquirer that sharp public clashes between some Lakota school board members also helped his group’s cause by raising questions about the district’s publicly elected leaders.
“As shown in the leadership conflicts on the school board, throwing money at poor management brings out the weaknesses reckless spending was obscuring. The much discussed rift between (board members) Joan Powell and Lynda O’Conner demonstrates that before we ever give this district more money we must have school board members who will manage the money properly,” said Hoffman.
“This levy failure is a mandate for our superintendent to now present to the teachers union the target of reducing their average wage impact on our community in such a fashion that fits with the district’s financial outlook for the next decade. That step must occur before another levy is ever attempted,” he said.
Wheatley also told the Enquirer the district’s new superintendent – Karen Mantia who began work in August – will help any future levy efforts.
She added that “Lakota is still in the recovery stage in regaining the community’s trust,” but declined to specify what caused that lack of lack of public trust in the school system.
Why did the school levy fail in 2011?
Did the school board rift, the economy or the large conservative political base influence the way the community voted?
Was the “lack of public trust” caused by the rift between school board members or was it due to the longtime complaint from community members that the board of education did a poor job of communicating (something Mantia is working to change)?
On the other hand, judging by the similar results from last November, maybe the community is just not ready to pass a school levy.
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Posted in: Board of Education, Election, Levy news, News, Schools |