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Board still mulling May levy numbers

Alissa Widman Neese • Jan 21, 2014 at 8:46 AM

In less than two weeks, Perkins Schools must pinpoint its magic number.

Board members hosted their second of three meetings about pursuing a May tax levy Monday, but have yet to determine what sized issue they’ll place on the upcoming ballot. About 50 people attended, many of them district employees and levy supporters.    

Discussion endured for almost three hours, with board members ultimately sending 12 levy options to the Erie County auditor for millage certification. They’ll reconvene 6 p.m. Jan. 29 and likely place one of the options on the May ballot.

Final Perkins Schools levy meeting is Jan. 29

On Monday, board members sent 12 tax levy options to the Erie County auditor for certification.

The millage amounts being considered, for both five-year and 10-year timeframes: 3.5, 3.75, 3.95, 4.25, 4.5 and 7.45 mills. Board members will reconvene Jan. 29 to place one of the levies on the May ballot.

The meeting is 6 p.m. in room 805 of Perkins High School. Anyone can come and offer opinions on the matter.

The levy options being considered: 3.5, 3.75, 3.95, 4.25, 4.5 and 7.45 mills, with both a five-year and 10-year timeframe possible for each option. If approved, money generated would fund day-to-day operations for Perkins Schools and stabilize the district’s longterm budget.

The deadline to place a levy on the May ballot is Feb. 5.

The numbers 

On the heels of three straight failed levy attempts, Perkins Schools has trimmed $4 million from its annual budget since March 2013.

The detrimental reductions included eliminating about a dozen teachers, drastically increasing student pay-to-participate fees and reducing health, art, music, computer and physical education programming.

A successful May levy could restore up to $1.6 million of those cuts, superintendent Jim Gunner said.

“It’s not just as simple as determining what dollar amount,” Gunner said. “This is tied to our programming and services we provide for our children.”

Perkins Schools is projecting a surplus of almost $140,000 in the current school year, with about $650,000 total in its cash reserve. The rainy day fund will carry the district through until the 2017-18 school year, when it will be completely depleted. The district’s annual budget is about $21 million.

These figures reflect Perkins Schools operating “as is,” however, with all costly reductions still in place.

The numbers don’t necessarily portray how much the recent cuts have negatively impacted the district, board members and others said.

“I don’t think people really wrap their head around how much this has impacted students, especially our elementary kids,” parent Richard Uher said. “Whenever I come back from a meeting, my daughter’s only question is ‘Did we get our music class back yet?’ That’s what this means to them.”

Using an interactive spreadsheet, Gunner and board members outlined several restoration options with community members.

To stabilize its budget for the next five years, the smallest levy necessary would be 1.8 mills. When factoring in the restoration of academic programming, the levy’s size could range greatly, depending on the programs supported.

Ultimately, the goal is to rally voters to approve enough funding to restore some of the cuts, while still maintaining a healthy cash reserve.

The spreadsheet of proposed restorations is available below

Music, art are community priority

Completely restoring music and art programming for the district’s elementary-aged students dominated much of Monday’s discussion.

The spreadsheet presented listed three categories of programs that could be restored with a successful levy, ranked in level of priority.

Music and art programming, however, fell into the lowest priority category, which didn’t sit well with some parents and teachers in the audience.

“It would be a real disservice to our students to not bring music and art to a higher priority, and I’m saddened to see it’s so far down on the list,” teacher Kaylin Schaefer said. “Our kids need that, want that and thrive on that, to be well-rounded students.”

A few of more than a dozen possible restorations ranked higher on the list include a district technology director, middle school guidance counselor, an assistant principal at Meadowlawn Intermediate School and middle school foreign language, computer and physical education programming.

Millage move and ‘Band-Aid’ approach

A May levy attempt would be the district’s first since moving a portion of its operating funds, called “inside millage” into a separate account used for building projects in 2011.

The move quickly depleted the district’s operating fund, which is used for salaries and other day-to-day operations.

Through a series of failed levy attempts, voters refused to restore the fund. This forced board members to return a portion of the moved funds into the district’s operating account in November. As a result, board members abandoned all plans for a building project in the near future.

Now, with a new campaign approach, board members and levy supporters are hoping to secure enough funding for longterm financial stability.

They’re also looking to reunite the seemingly divided Perkins Schools community.

“Emotions often sway these votes, not facts,” past board member Elaine Waterfield said during the debate. “As hard as it is, we need to find these ‘no’ voters and find out why they’re voting no. I’ve still heard people say students aren’t being hurt by the levies failing, which isn’t the case at all.”

The upcoming, smaller levy proposal will not address any long-term facility concerns or provide much extra funding for unforeseeable emergencies.

Still, many “no” voters suggested they would support a smaller, “Band-Aid approach,” some noted Monday.

Voters haven’t approved a new Perkins Schools tax levy since 2000.

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