ELIDA — A plea from the superintendent, fellow school board members and residents to come out as a unified board and put a levy on the May ballot fell on deaf ears at the Elida school board meeting Tuesday.
As they did last month, board members Brian Anders and Brad Settlage voted against putting a five-year, 5.95 mill property tax levy on the May ballot. It could raise $2.1 million for the district.
The two board members cast their votes after more than an hour of others practically begging them to change their minds.
“Put personal preferences aside and vote for the kids,” resident Gene Wheeler said.
The two board members did not budge, saying not enough time had passed since an income tax levy defeat in November.
“Ten weeks ago 60 percent said no,” Anders said. “It is like we haven’t heard them. No means no. We don’t keep shoving it in their face.”
Settlage said people contacting him said they were against a levy.
"I think of it as what I would do at the voting booth,” Settlage said. “I voted to put it on (last time) to let the community decide, and they voted it down.”
Board President Dennis Fricke said it is the board’s job to make sure students of Elida receive adequate funding. Board Vice President Sally Ulrich spoke of the unfunded mandates from the state and the need for money to comply.
“We know the dire straits the district is in. We know we need more money,” said board member Brenda Stocker, adding that many districts in the state have seen levies fail. “We revamped it, so it is not an income tax. Hopefully the community will be more supportive of that.”
In a lengthy presentation, Superintendent Don Diglia reminded the board and nearly 50 people attending the meeting that the district lost $2.3 million in revenue while cutting $2.8 million from its budget over the last five years.
“We have cut and slashed programs at the high school and middle school to the point that there are very few electives,” he said.
The district faces a $1.3 million deficit in fiscal year 2015. That grows to $4.7 million the following year. Elida expects to spend $676,000 more than it brings in this year. Despite employees taking 0 percent wage increases, it climbs to $1.2 million next year. The district has limited carryover money, $264,000 at the end of next year, to keep it out of the hole until 2015.
The school board is expected to vote on a $465,569 reduction plan next month and continue to work on finding another $700,000 if the levy fails.
At the top of the $700,000 list of cuts will likely be dropping the current all-day, every day kindergarten program. Diglia said the move could save the district $326,000, but it would be detrimental to pupils.
“I hope people understand how important all-day, everyday kindergarten is for kids in this district,” he said. “It is not only important for one year during their kindergarten year, it is important for every one of the 13 years they are here.”
The state does not require or help fund all-day kindergarten programs. The district previously dropped all-day, everyday kindergarten after a failed levy but brought it back when a levy passed in 2005.
The board met in executive session following Tuesday’s board meeting to hear specifics of Diglia’s $465,569 reduction recommendations. The group has held several such sessions since a five-year, 0.75 percent earned income tax failed by 60 percent in November.
Diglia said if the first round of cuts are approved by the board, they will impact staff but won’t reduce course offerings for pupils. He can’t promise the same for the second round of cuts if the levy fails.
“Then it will affect students, electives, extracurriculars,” he said. “There will be nothing that can’t be on the table. That will make us a shell, I think.”
Diglia said that beyond the kindergarten program, he doesn’t know where else the district can cut to reach the $700,000 needed if the levy fails. The cuts are permanent, he said, and a successful levy attempt won’t bring anything back.
All five board members voted Tuesday to take a five-year, permanent improvement renewal levy to voters in May. The 1 mill raises about $355,000 a year.
The levy debate began last month when Anders and Settlage said they did not believe a levy would pass as long as Diglia remained. The two do not have the majority of the votes needed to force Diglia to go. Settlage said his decision to vote against going to voters was largely based on his own financial situation.
The two have criticized Diglia for not communicating well and said people in the community believe he has treated some badly. Other board members credit Diglia with the district’s academic performance and successful completion of a high school building project.
At the board’s organization meeting last week, board members agreed to “commit to having a better 2013 and work together as a board.”
District employee and resident Jo Ellen Miller, concerned about her property value if the district cut more, asked the board to do just that.
“Please do not jeopardize the quality of life in our community,” she said. “Please work as hard together as you worked individually on your own campaigns for school board, and the levies will pass.”
Parent Michelle Etzkorn asked the board to think about its hard-working staff and the personal sacrifices they make for pupils.
“Let's stop and think about who our votes truly affect,” she said. “It doesn’t affect the board, the treasurer or even the superintendent anywhere near as much as it affects our teachers and our students. … Think of the over 2,500 children who count on you to do the right thing. Let’s show them we are willing to put our personal opinions and agendas aside and do what is right for their future.”