Thursday, August 5, 2004

Schools consider fall votes

If failed levies return, Aug. 19 is deadline

By Cindy Kranz
Enquirer staff writer

It's back to the ballot - possibly as early as November - for Hamilton and Clermont county school districts that lost levies Tuesday.

Sycamore Community Schools, Winton Woods City Schools and Clermont Northeastern Local School District must decide soon whether to try again this fall.

The deadline to file for the Nov. 2 election is Aug. 19.

What's more, districts are left pondering more cutbacks as a result of their levy losses.

At a Wednesday meeting, Sycamore's school board approved a hiring freeze, unless a new hire is essential for operations or student needs, such as meeting federal guidelines or safety issues.

The board also lifted its cap on class size, which will bring classes closer to state guidelines of 25 students in elementary classrooms.

The board in March 2003had established minimum and maximum sizes for K-2 classrooms (17-22 students) and grade 3-4 classrooms (18-23 students).

"We have to face the reality of this vote and do things differently," Superintendent Karen Mantia said. The levy was defeated decisively, 5,617 to 3,576, in unofficial, final returns.

Sycamore has already cut more than $3 million, including 75 jobs, from its 2004-05 budget.

The district also will look at other areas for further reductions, including additional bus routes, such as activity buses, textbook purchases and technology upgrades.

The board will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss whether to go back on the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, the Winton Woods board meets today to discuss the levy and another try in November.

"We're going to look at all of our options," Superintendent Camille Nasbe said. "For sure, building maintenance will be affected."

The district already cut this year's budget by more than $2.1 million, including 41 jobs, about 7 percent of its staff. Nasbe foresees cutting more staff, as well.

Clermont Northeastern's school board meets today to discuss the levy outcome and might decide to place another levy on the November ballot, said Superintendent Charles Shreve.

Although no cuts are in store immediately, the district has outlined what will happen if another levy fails.

"The board has voted that extracurricular activities and high school transportation would cease in the middle of the year if there is a November defeat," Shreve said.

Meanwhile, the mood is brighter in Williamsburg Local School District, where a levy passed on its third try since November. It was one of few levies to pass locally or statewide.

"I don't know the last time I ever experienced such a feeling as I did (Tuesday) night," Superintendent Tom Durbinsaid. "It brought tears to my eyes ... We've had some trying times, and the community stepped up by passing the levy."

The levy won this time by 99 votes. Last March, it lost by 86.

"The biggest thing I think made a difference this time is community involvement," Durbin said. "We had more people willing to work for the levy. I think people saw it was a situation that wasn't going to go away. The state wasn't going to come in with a magic wand and make our troubles disappear."

Durbin thinks the district got out the message about getting off Academic Watch on the Local Report Card.

The money generated by this levy won't buy anything new but, Durbin said, at least there won't be any more cuts.

"I've been on the other side of the fence on the losing side twice, and this side is a whole lot better."


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