Thursday, October 18, 2001

Three of 4 candidates for levy

Fairfield being asked to approve 5.6 mills

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        FAIRFIELD — Cutting $2 million from the 2002-03 budget may be the first task for the newly elected Fairfield Board of Education if voters reject a 5.6-mill operating levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

        The levy would bring about $5.9 million to district coffers, with collections beginning in January. That money would keep the district solvent through 2004 or later, said Scott Gooding, treasurer for the Fairfield Schools.

        “It's pretty obvious you can't run a school district — or a household — on a deficit,” said board member Maurice Godsey, one of three incumbents seeking re-election.

        Last May, Fairfield voters rejected a 2.9-mill levy. Since that defeat, the district learned its insurance premiums would increase by $880,000, a 25 percent hike expected to continue the next two years, Mr. Gooding said. Since May, the district has also decided to maintain a $1.7 million cash reserve, which had been required by law, said Superintendent Robert Farrell.

        Incumbent candidates Michael Oler, ending his third, four-year term on the board; Kay Crain, ending her second term; and Mr. Godsey, ending his second term, support the levy. Only one candidate, Arnold Engel, seeking a first term on the school board, is working to defeat the levy. The four are vying for three open seats.

        “The key issue in this race is the 5.6 mill school levy,” said Mr. Engel, who also opposed the May levy. “There's nobody that can tell us passage of this will guarantee us a better education. People of Fairfield cannot afford this.”

        Mr. Engel thinks the district could trim expenses by a half-million dollars or more by reducing teacher training, college courses and other staff development-related costs. He said the $190 per pupil the district spent on that during the 1999-2000 school year is higher than the $148 state average as reported on Fairfield's 2001 Report Card.

        Those areas have already been trimmed since May's failed levy, Mr. Farrell said. He said he is hesitant to cut back too far because the district recently learned its 2002 report card would show the district met 20 of 27 state standards, an increase of four over the 2001 report card.

        “We've gotten our best results ever spending fewer dollars per pupil than the state average with larger than we'd like class sizes,” Mr. Farrell said. “Where are we going to cut back? We would put all that progress and our children in jeopardy.”

        The Citizens for Accountability and Results in Education, headed by Mr. Engel, will sponsor a town hall meeting to discuss the levy and other school issues. It will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 30, at Fairfield Fire Headquarters, 375 Nilles Road.


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