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District goes ‘five for five’

Alissa Widman Neese • Jan 22, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Norwalk   Schools officials plan to proceed with their “five for five” tax levy plan for the May ballot.

At a special meeting Tuesday dedicated entirely to levy discussion, all five board members agreed to send a five-year, five-mill emergency operating levy to the Huron County auditor for certification.

At a 7 p.m. meeting next Tuesday, they’re expected to officially approve placing the issue on the upcoming ballot.

Want to go?

WHAT: Norwalk school board special meeting

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Norwalk High School, 350 Shady Lane Drive

WHY: To discuss placing a five-year, 5-mill tax levy on the May ballot

The plan, in a nutshell: Voters approve a five-year, 5-mill levy, which would generate $500 for each district student, to fund their education.

If approved, the levy would generate $1.5 million annually for Norwalk Schools, enough to stabilize its budget for the next five years.

It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $175 in taxes each year.

"We’re in need of a success, and people I talk with seem to think this plan is something the community can get behind,” board member Rob Ludwig said.

Discussion Tuesday was almost exclusively between board members, as only a handful of people attended the levy-devoted meeting. It was the second of three planned meetings for this month about the topic.

Board members agreed to pursue the levy within the first half hour of discussion, and then spent another hour discussing “Plan B” — a slew of harmful, detrimental cuts that will take the district to nearly minimum standards required by the Ohio Department of Education.

Norwalk Schools is facing a $1.8 million deficit at the end of the current school year and a $879,000 deficit in the upcoming school year, according to its five-year financial forecast.

The district has been deficit spending for several years and is set to spend all its reserve cash by 2017. Its annual budget is about $24 million.

If faced with no additional funding from a new levy, superintendent Dennis Doughty proposed the following reductions to board members, totaling about $1 million:

• Eliminating six teaching positions, likely one business, art, music, physical education teacher and two librarians.

• Eliminating eight teachers’ aide positions.

• Eliminating one administrative assistant.

• Charging $50 for clubs and co-curricular activities.

• Increasing pay-to-participate athletic fees to $200 for high school sports and $100 for middle school sports, up from $150 and $75, respectively.

It’s a grim possibility, as voters haven’t approved a new operating levy for Norwalk Schools since 1991.

Regardless of the levy’s fate, Norwalk Schools plans to trim about $225,000 from its budget this year. Some small cost-saving measures include reducing employee overtime, eliminating excess food services costs and recruiting and retaining students, so their state funding stays within the district.

Some of Doughty’s proposals to attract students included starting an alternative learning program, similar to Compass Academy at Sandusky Schools, and expanding open enrollment to include any school district in Ohio.

Currently, only students in contiguous districts can open enroll to Norwalk Schools.

During Tuesday’s discussion, board member Steve Linder criticized the state funding model for public schools, which places the burden of approving additional monies on local taxpayers.

“I really don’t think it’s up to the voters and people of the district to fix this problem, it’s up to the government,” Linder said. “We’ve been trying to control our deficit spending and keep things going, and no one wants to give anyone a layoff, but we have to do something. It’s getting to the point where someone needs to step up”

Linder, Doughty and other board members suggested reaching out to elected officials and others who might be able to help spark change or increase awareness about state funding issues.

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