Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Voters positive; Kings ups levy



By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer

DEERFIELD TWP. - Heartened by positive responses in a telephone survey, the Kings Board of Education has scrapped its original plan to seek a 2-mill operating levy in November, and instead is going for a 5.9-mill levy.

But more financial challenges remain for the Warren County school system that in the last year has battled costly lead contamination, including replacing a football stadium lost in the lead clean-up; windstorm damage; declining tax revenues; and budget cuts.

After last year's decisive defeat of a $43 million bond issue, school officials vowed to be more responsive to residents, and part of that effort involved conducting a phone survey of 504 randomly selected voters.

The results showed 69 percent of those surveyed - and 88 percent of parents with children in Kings schools - gave the district either an "A" or "B" grade. Moreover, 60 percent of voters polled - and 81 percent of school parents - said they were willing to pay more in taxes to keep Kings' class sizes down. Also, 69 percent agreed that the financially troubled district, which faces a $2 million projected deficit in 2006 even after $2 million in budget cuts, will need more money.

Kings Superintendent Charles Mason described the survey as a "tremendous outpouring" of support from residents.

Kings school board member Roger Jones described the survey results as a mandate from voters for the board to act quickly and decisively by proposing the larger levy.

"This tells me the people want good schools and are willing to provide for it," said Jones.

District officials explained the proposed 5.9-mill levy, which would raise $4 million annually and offset the looming $2 million budget shortfall in 2006, would be more efficient than seeking a 2-mill levy and then more operating tax issues later to cover the 2006 deficit.

The board will make a final vote to place the 5.9-mill levy on the November ballot in August. If approved by voters, it would raise the annual tax on a $100,000 home by $180.

Kings' money woes

As the $2 million cleanup of toxic lead from Kings Junior and Senior High School campus wraps up at the end of this month, district officials are turning their attention to how to find the estimated $3 million it needs to replace the football stadium demolished in the cleanup.

Federal funds paid for the cleanup and school board officials are considering a low-interest loan, allowed under state school financing, to pay for a new stadium. The district might use part of Kings' permanent improvement levy, which raises about $1 million annually, to cover the costs of a stadium. Officials said they would likely seek a renewal of the permanent improvement levy, which is renewable every five years, in 2005. Voter approval of the levy renewal would not raise taxes.

The district is also considering an estimated $43 million bond issue to build and expand school buildings to handle overcrowding, but would not seek voter approval for that tax issue until 2005 or later.

E-mail mclark@enquirer.com




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