By Sue Botos
Rocky River school officials vowed to turn to residents for input after a 5.9-mill operating levy was defeated in March. They kept their promise, with a series of community meetings and door-to-door campaigns as well as consultations with experts. The result was passage of a 4.9-mill measure last week by a vote of 6,206 to 5,101.
“That was the biggest margin for a levy passage in my six years of being here,” commented Superintendent Michael Shoaf after the results were made official.
Shoaf added that the positive results may not have been possible without hours of volunteer time. “The levy committee really worked hard. There were so many volunteers, hundreds of people, and such a big effort from so many people.” In a statement made election night, Shoaf especially thanked levy committee chairwoman Melissa Ferchill Swingos and treasurer Tracey Blossey for their work.
The levy, which will cost taxpayers about $12 monthly per $100,000 of home valuation, will give the schools a financial boost, and help the district avoid a predicted $942,000 deficit next year. However, it will not totally make up for the $3.5 million cut by the state last year. As a result, Shoaf said, the budget will remain tight.
The nearly $1 million in cuts made to the schools’ financial plan during the 2010-2011 school term, and the $300,000 taken so far this year, will be analyzed, according to Shoaf. “This gives us the opportunity to move forward, and the first two things we will address are class size and curriculum offerings,” he said.
“It’s not like we did whatever we wanted in the past,” continued Shoaf, “but we have to be cautious and really examine the budget.” He added that the smaller amount of millage may also have made the measure more attractive to voters.
One of the things school administrators were especially proud of, and referenced often during the levy, was the fact that the last levy was stretched an additional year, with funds made to last four years instead of the expected three. Shoaf hopes to do the same with the newly passed measure; however, he added, attention must be kept on Columbus. “If they cut millions more, it will be even more of an uphill battle,” he said, noting that there is a lobby in the state capital that tries to “protect what we have left” in the way of funding for suburban schools.
Shoaf felt the negative campaign waged by WASTE (We Are Simply Taxed Enough), headed by resident Chuck Bartsche, had little effect on the outcome. The board took the advice of experts and rebutted some of the claims made by WASTE, distributing a flier at Shoaf’s state of the schools address in October.
Even though the measure passed, Bartsche said his group was still successful in “educating” the community. “We’re fighting for financial sustainability,” stated Bartsche, who says he supports the city and schools, despite the negative literature he and his group distributed. Bartsche said he hopes a citizens’ group can be formed to further study the question of school finance.