Friday, November 5, 2004

Student activities in danger after levy defeat



By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

[photo]
The Clermont Northeastern High School junior varsity girls basketball team practices Wednesday.
Enquirer/ERNEST COLEMAN
STONELICK TOWNSHIP - Samantha Schoff is captain of the cheerleading squad at Clermont Northeastern Middle School, but she is not looking forward to returning to school after winter break.

That's because, come Jan. 1, there likely won't be a cheerleading squad or any athletic teams to cheer.

After Tuesday's resounding defeat of a $1.2 million permanent improvement levy - the third time this year that Clermont Northeastern voters have rejected the levy - the board of education is contemplating cuts as high as $1 million effective Jan. 1, on top of more than $900,000 in cuts made in 2003-04.

Proposed cuts include the elimination of all extracurricular activities - even athletic teams whose seasons already will be under way.

"Everyone who heard about the levy loss today was pretty discouraged," said Samantha, an eighth-grader. Extracurricular activities "... make everyone want to go to school.

"Some of my friends are talking about switching schools if it continues to fail."

CLOSER VOTE
Voters in the Clermont Northeastern School District on Tuesday rejected a $1.2 million permanent improvement levy for the third time this year. If approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would have paid $150 more annually. This year's results:
• November: Defeated 57 percent to 42 percent.
• August: Defeated 62 percent to 38 percent.
• March: Defeated 70 percent to 30 percent.
The last time voters approved a levy was May 1995, a 1 percent income tax.
The Board of Education will discuss cuts at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the board office, 2792 U.S. 50, Stonelick Township.
The "Growing Our Future" levy committee will meet 7 p.m. Nov. 22 in the board office. For information about the committee, visit www.growingourfuture.com.
Her friends aren't alone. Since last year, the largely middle-class, mostly rural district of 1,900 has lost about 100 students through open-enrollment programs to surrounding districts, in part because of the continued levy failures, said Patty Spencer, one of three board members in her first term.

"The worst-case scenario is every building is closed at 4 and all extracurriculars are gone," Spencer said of the cuts, which will be voted on Nov. 18 at the board's next meeting.

In May, the board voted to cut all extracurricular activities and high school busing in the 85-square-mile district if a levy wasn't passed by year's end.

Previous cuts

The district is already impacted by cuts made in 2003-04, including:

• The loss of five full-time teachers.

• Having to switch to an alternate-day kindergarten program to cut transportation costs.

• Reconfiguration of district buildings, including selling the old administration building. Now the district offices are housed in the same building as the kindergarten classrooms.

• A freeze of all non-emergency spending and salaries.

In addition, students have been under a pay-to-participate system since the district turned sports over to athletic boosters in 1992, when faced with another financial crunch.

After passage of a 1 percent income tax in 1995 - the last time a levy was passed - the district took back control of the sports in 1997, but pay-to-participate remained.

Today, students pay $75 per activity with a $150 cap.

Interim Superintendent Ralph Shell, who replaced Charles Shreve in August, will present his budget cut recommendations to the board Nov. 18.

Shell has been looking for ways to save programs despite a deficit expected to climb to $5 million by 2009.

"The board of education has already cut to the point that it's almost ridiculous," Shell said. "There's absolutely no fat we can cut, except in services that directly affect students."

Shell said a state staffing analysis revealed the district is understaffed in the schools - down seven teachers, one building administrator and one guidance counselor - and at the central office.

Spencer said high school busing and bus service for all students within a two-mile radius of a school is also on the chopping block.

The levy is a frequent topic of conversation across the district.

Realtor Gigi Dales, owner of Real Living Village Realty in Stonelick Township, often fields questions from prospective homebuyers.

"Buyers want to know if the district is having problems," Dales said.

Cindy Huxel, co-chair of the "Growing Our Future" levy committee and a parent, is encouraged to see the number of yes votes rising. The levy failed by a 70 to 30 percent margin in March and a 62 to 38 percent margin in August. This week's failure was 57 to 42 percent.

District rating low

While there is no organized anti-levy campaign, plenty of residents are outspoken.

Larry Fry of Stonelick Township, a 1964 graduate of Clermont Northeastern High School, had an anti-levy sign in his yard.

"I know the kids need to be educated, but enough's enough," Fry said. "I'm on a fixed income; I'm retired. My retirement check doesn't go up."

Voters also are influenced by the district's "Continuous Improvement" rating, the lowest of Clermont County's nine school districts. Shell said his goal is to improve test scores and stabilize funding. He believes that will lead to voter support of the levy, which is likely to appear for a fourth time on the May ballot.

E-mail kbvance@adelphia.net




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