By Jeff Gallatin
NORTH OLMSTED - North Olmsted school officials began making initial preparations for moving forward after the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections count released Tuesday had the Nov. 2 7.9-mill operating levy for the district passing by 56 votes.
In the final tally which included provisional and mail-in ballots, 6,900 people voted for the levy and 6,844 against. Voters had rejected the same levy in May and August by about a 55 to 45 percent margin, prompting many of the changes such as cutting busing and implementing a pay-to-participate program.
Because of the close final margin, an automatic recount will be done. North Olmsted School Board Superintendent Cheryl Dubsky said Tuesday Board of Elections officials told her it would take place Dec. 1 and should be completed that day.
Dubsky, who attended the Board of Elections meeting, was cautiously optimistic after hearing Tuesday’s results.
“As the difference in the results is less than one-half of one percent of the total votes cast, we will wait anxiously but patiently for the results of the recount,” Dubsky said. “I want to thank every citizen in our community who voted. This is a tough financial time for us all – families, businesses and our schools.
“I remain overwhelmed by the extraordinary sacrifices our community is willing to make to provide our children with a world-class education. It says a lot about who they are. Our community values education and makes it a priority in their lives,” she said. “While we still don’t know the final outcome of the election at this time, what we do know – win or lose – is that our future depends upon the willingness of the schools and community to work together. I believe that whatever the outcome, together we will strive to keep North Olmsted a great place to live, work and learn.”
Prior to Tuesday, Dubsky said if the levy passes the district would restore busing to more than state minimum standards, refund fall pay to participate fees for middle and high school extra-curricular and athletic programs. If it fails, Dubsky said the district will have to make additional cuts, which will likely include key academic programs and personnel.
Prior to the Nov. 2 election, district officials said they have already reduced expenses by about $4.5 million over the two-year budget period. The cuts included salary freezes from district educators and administrators, teachers foregoing a scheduled pay hike,plus program and personnel cuts.
The levy had hung in the balance since Nov. 3, when, after the last of the early morning tallies were added in, the levy was down by 10 votes, 6,709 to 6,699. Many people had gone to bed Tuesday night or early Wednesday, thinking the levy had been on top by either 13 or 3 votes. However, some mail-in ballots and votes from people in hospitals were counted after 10 p.m.
In addition, board officials noted there were 328 provisional ballots to be checked as well as nearly 30 more mail-in ballots which were post-marked by the November deadline and had arrived at the board of elections.
Even with Tuesday’s results, Dubsky has said the district will have to change its methods of operation. She told both attendees at the Nov. 15 Board of Education meeting and the North Olmsted Chamber of Commerce in her annual state of the schools address Nov. 18, that there would be changes made however the levy election turns out.
“We’re going to have to change how we do business,” she said.
Referring to upcoming decisions to be made by the school board and her administration, Dubsky said tough decisions will have to be made.
“We know that we will not return to the February ballot if it does not pass,” she said. “While we don’t know the outcome of the levy at this time – we do know – win or lose – that we have to do things differently.”
Dubsky said the district can’t look to federal or state assistance as a means to dealing with its tight financial situation.
“We can’t rely on federal assistance,” she said. “The state is dealing with an $8 billion budget deficit. Ohio schools will be getting less money from
Columbus. We need to work with our community to look at the long-term and decide how to do more with less without hurting our kids.”
Dubsky said the district is taking a hard look at how it operates.
“The administrative team is looking at all programs and services provided beyond what is required to comply with state laws,” she said. “These programs and services include things such as athletics, gifted education, alternative education and intervention programs; elective courses; specials classes; graduation requirements beyond the state minimum; length of the school day, week and year. We are analyzing all district staffing. We are looking at how to schedule instruction differently. We are seeking ways to better use technology. We’re looking at ways to raise money. We are looking at data. We are looking at ways to redefine ourselves.”
Dubsky said the district must be careful about whatever it does. She said the district must consider whether any change, reduction or elimination is a superficial or stopgap measure. They also must consider whether it can be sustained over time, whether it undermines student learning and whether the process is antiquated and could it be done in a more efficient and cost effective way.
After hearing Tuesday’s tallies, Dubsky said the district is still focused on the future.
“The future of North Olmsted is related to the quality of education we provide,” she said. “There are 4300 students depending upon us all to prepare them well for their futures. We are still hoping that the final count will be in favor of providing superior programs and services to help all of our students continue to achieve and perform with the very best.”