By Kevin Kelley
Westlake City Schools Superintendent Dan Keenan said he plans to ask the Board of Education to consider $2.2 million in annual cuts, including the elimination of 30 teaching positions, following the loss of the school district’s 5.4-mill operating levy Tuesday.
Issue 88 failed, with 4,705 votes (46.6 percent) for it and 5,388 (53.4) against it. A 5.9-mill tax failed in May by just 44 votes.
The levy would have cost Westlake property owners an additional $15.75 per month for every $100,000 in property value and raised $7.3 million annually. The last time Westlake voters approved an operating levy was in May 2006.
Chris Kennedy, the mother of students in the Westlake district who chaired the levy campaign, said she believed uncertainty about potential new Cleveland Division of Water fees, harmed Issue 88’s chances. She noted that absentee voters, whom campaigner concentrated on, went against the levy, 1,893 votes to 1,702.
Cleveland’s Division of Water intends to charge Westlake residential customers an additional $291 per quarter fro costs associated with the suburb’s potential departure from its water system. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough has vowed to fight the charge.
City Council members Ed Hack and Mark Getsay both have said they heard residents say concerns about the additional water charges might cause them to vote against the school levy. Both council members urged residents to consider the school levy on its own merits.
School board president Tom Mays said he was uncertain how many people were influenced by the concern about additional water fees.
“I think that some people were concerned about that,” Mays told West Life.
Mays said he was surprised by the levy’s failure since the Westlake City Schools have a record of high academic achievement by its students and has acted financially prudent.
Before the election, Mays and other levy backers said they believed the community wanted a premium public school district.
Asked if residents have changed their attitude toward the community’s public schools, Mays replied, “I would hope that’s not the case.”
“I would really hope that Westlake residents don;t want to see an average district,” he added.
Mays said the district would not automatically approve Keenan’s proposed budget cuts as recommended but would carefully consider what cuts need to be made.
“There’s no question that we’ll have to make reductions,” Mays said.
The board will consider budget cuts in light of the levy’s failure at its next meeting on Nov. 18, Mays said.
SCHOOL BOARD RACE: Barb Leszynski, a retired North Olmsted Middle School teacher who was appointed to the school board in March 2012 to fill a vacancy, won election to a full four-year term in Tuesday’s election. John Finucane, the president of a shipping logistics company who served as the treasurer of current board member Tony Falcone’s 2011 campaign, also won a four-year term on the Westlake City School Board of Election.
The top two candidates in the three-person race won board seats. Leszynski was the top vote-getter, receiving 4,983 votes. Finucane got 3,806 votes. Former Fairview Park school board president Brad Lamb came in third with 3,557 votes.