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Levy committee hoping voters support schools

February 29, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

Voters will be facing a 3.8 mill levy on Tuesday as school officials and levy committee volunteers hope for passage. The Poland School District has already made some tough choices to trim the budget, and they hope they won't be facing even more cuts.

Dr. Robert Zorn said the Board of Education is taking an optimistic approach to the Tuesday elections.

"The school board's position is to wait and see what happens with the levy and proceed from there," Zorn said.

The need for additional funding goes back to November of 2010 when the board placed a 3 mill levy on the ballot. That levy was defeated and the board came back in November of 2011 with a 6.8 mill levy that also went down to defeat. With that loss, the district was forced to make some tough decisions to balance the budget.

Zorn said the problem stems from the state funds. School districts such as Poland and Canfield are considered to be wealthy communities and the state is cutting those districts in favor of supporting some of the state's poorer districts.

Right now, we are getting 21 percent of our funding from the state," Zorn said. "That means 79 percent has to come from local funding."

He added that the state has cut another $641,089 from Poland Schools this year. That, coupled with an over $2 million loss last year and the failure of the levy, meant making adjustments. Zorn said the district cut 24 tutors, 11 teachers and 25 transportation employees from the budget. The district also cut $1,300,000 from the budget by not buying new textbooks, equipment and buses, as well as not replacing teachers who retired.

In addition, Zorn said the bus drivers took a 25 percent pay reduction and have lost their medical coverage. Teachers lost 16 percent in their annual step increases. In fact, Zorn said in the past 10 years, teachers have taken three years of wage freezes., including one in 2013.

Cuts were additionally made in busing and in many of the course offerings. Zorn said kindergarten through fourth grade physical education was cut as well as music, art and guidance. In the middle school, the gifted program was cut and Latin is no longer an option at the high school.

As the district entered 2012, the board decided to go back on the ballot hoping the third time is a charm. They went with a 3.8 mill levy that would keep the district from making further cuts and could possibly restore a few of the discontinued items.

One thing in the district's favor is a .8 mill levy that will not be renewed this year. Zorn said that would make the net effect of the new levy at 3 mills.

One resident pushing hard for passage is Jeff Sabrin, who serves as co-chair of the Citizens for Poland Schools committee. The committee, now boasting 50 members, formed prior to the 2011 elections and has been revived to help put the word out about this year's levy. In speaking with residents, he said there is one outstanding concern.

"Questions vary, but primarily concerns remain about closing an elementary school, and understanding what programs will be cut in addition to cuts already made," he said.

In addition to the new levy, voters will be deciding on the renewal of a 1 mill permanent improvement levy.

"This one is called the bricks and mortar levy," Zorn said.

The 1 mill can only be used for building repairs and maintenance. It cannot be used for the operation of the district or the general fund.

Also on the ballot will be a township renewal of the 2 mill levy.



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