By Kevin Kelley
The Westlake City Schools Board of Education on Monday night took the first of two steps required to place a 5.9-mill operating levy on the May ballot.
The board unanimously approved a motion requesting the county auditor’s office to certify the dollar amount that would be raised under a 5.9-mill tax increase.
District Treasurer Mark Pepera estimated the amount to be around $8 million; certification by the auditor provides the exact amount based on the county’s latest figures.
A 5.9-mill levy would cost a Westlake homeowner about $15 each month for each $100,000 of valuation on his or her property beginning in 2014.
Superintendent Dan Keenan and Pepera had recommended the district seek voters’ approval on a new operating levy in the range of 5.9 to 6.5 mills.
The 5.9 figure was settled on based on results of a telephone survey of 400 likely voters conducted earlier this month.
Kathy Severinski, a senior partner at Triad Research Group, told board members that when initially questioned, 55 percent of survey participants said they would definitely or probably support a 5.9-mill tax increase. That support dropped to 48 percent if the amount was 6.5 mills, even when recipients were told that the higher amount would permit the district to restore busing of high school students.
That result somewhat surprised board President Tom Mays, who noted that the elimination of high school busing was a big issue among parents when the cut was made two years ago.
Severinski told board members the survey indicated a good base of support for a new 5.9-mill levy.
“You’re starting off in a good position with 55 percent for (the levy),” she said.
But Severinski warned that passage would still require a strong campaign to convince voters to approve the new tax. She also said that the district’s record of fiscal responsibility, including previous budget cuts and a new concessionary teachers contract, resonated well with potential voters.
The school board is expected to vote at its Feb. 4 meeting on a second resolution to place the operating levy on the May 7 ballot.
At a Jan. 23 school board meeting, members generally agreed that a new tax was necessary. The district’s financial forecast sees deficits appearing before the end of the 2014-2015 school year unless a new operating levy is passed or cuts are made.
The most recent operating levy, passed by voters in September 2006, was for 6.9 mills. District officials projected that levy would suffice for only four years; but a new levy has not been put before voters until now.