Sunday, December 14, 2003

Lakota growth, deficit forces levy, $10 million cuts

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

LIBERTY TWP. - Faced with a looming deficit and growing enrollment, Lakota educators have put together a financial package that includes more than $10 million in cuts over three years and an 11.67 mill ballot issue.

The Lakota Board of Education decided Saturday to put a single question, combination issue, on the March 2 ballot. It includes 9.3 mills for day-to-day operations and a 2.37-mill bond issue.

"I've wrestled with this - hard," said board member Jeff Jones, after the unanimous vote. "Is it best for children? It could be better. Somehow we will make it work.''

The 9.3 mills will provide the district with about $21 million annually, said Treasurer Alan Hutchinson. The bond issue would provide $84.9 million that would be paid back over 28 years. It would pay for:

• Adding classrooms to Lakota East and West high schools

• Converting Liberty Elementary into a second early childhood center.

• Expanding Hopewell Elementary to include an early childhood wing.

• Building three new elementary schools, two of which would replace Liberty and Union schools.

If approved, the levy is expected to raise taxes $536.09 annually on a $150,000 house with collections beginning in January 2005, Hutchinson said. The exact numbers will be finalized Monday when the board votes to put the issue on the ballot after the county auditor certifies the issue.

Along with the ballot question will come spending reductions, which should keep the district solvent through the 2007-08 school year.

Under the plan, the board would reduce spending by $3,020,078 in 2004-05. Those cuts would continue into the 2005-06 school year when another $49,740 would be cut from the budget. The combined cuts would continue into the 2006-07 school year when the budget would be reduced again, this time by $51,481, Hutchinson said.

Although administrators presented the board with a proposed plan for the cuts, another $550,000 in spending cuts would have to be identified, Hutchinson said.

West Chester resident Rod Little told the board that the issue would have a better of chance of passing if residents knew where their children would attend classes once the new schools were built, especially those in his neighborhood.

Children now attend Union Elementary, which will be rebuilt elsewhere. He asked the board to consider relocating his neighborhood to Freedom Elementary.

He got no assurances from the board, which said that decision wouldn't be made until a year before the move.


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