The last time an Avon school levy failed in two consecutive elections was in 1974, according to Avon Superintendent Jim Reitenbach.
Avon voters who failed a 5.9-mill, 10-year operating school levy on Aug. 3 may be looking at history in the making.Avon Local School District officials and supporters hope the third time will be the charm for the request.
The levy failed 59.50 to 40.50 percent, according to unofficial results from the Lorain County Board of Elections. The results show 3,043 people voted against the levy and 2,071 voted for it.
In May, the levy failed 2,414 to 1,878 (56.24 to 43.76 percent), which marked the first time in 17 years an Avon Local School District operating levy failed.
While 14,049 Avon residents are registered to vote, according to the Lorain County Board of Election’s unofficial calculations, only 5,126 cast a ballot in the Aug. 3 election. The results show the levy passed in only one precinct – 1-D – with 259 for and 239 against.
The Avon Board of Education voted last month to place the same 5.9-mill levy on the November ballot in the event residents defeated the Aug. 3 request. The 10-year levy would raise approximately $4.5 million each year and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $180.71 annually.
Assessing the outcome Board member John Weigman was the only one who voted against placing the 5.9-mill, 10-year levy on the August and November ballot after it failed in May.”It’s unfortunate,” he said of the August failure. “I think it’s a clear message from our voters that 5.9 is not a number they will pass in 2010. Right now we are lined up to come back in November with the same number, and I think we are in a lot of trouble there, too.”
Weigman would have liked to discuss placing smaller requests on the ballot, though he acknowledged “the lower numbers don’t get us where we need to be.” “But now we probably aren’t going to get any extra money next year,” he said.
Several people have approached Weigman, telling him they would vote for smaller levies and that 10 years was too long a commitment.
“I think the strategy was flawed that we continued to wrap our arms around this large number,” he said.
He said he spoke to a few parents who said the 5.9 mills was just too much money. He feels the levy fared worse in August compared to May “because there was a ‘no’ campaign going on.”
Board member Scott Radcliffe, who worked closely with the levy committee, said the results of the election were disappointing, but the group doesn’t plan to give up.
“We will continue to work to educate the people on why the levy is necessary while planning for the continued growth that is happening,” Radcliffe said the day after the vote.
Asked what he thought contributed to the levy’s failure, Radcliffe said, “I think in general we are victims of people just backlashing from the government and taxes.”
“We aren’t the ones out there changing health care or raising taxes on small businesses,” he said. “We are the easy prey, if you will, of the groups against taxes in general.”
Radcliffe feels the district and levy committee “put everything out there that we could” in terms of getting the information about the levy out to the public. Radcliffe has agreed to participate in a public discussion on 2presspapers.com to talk about school funding.
“We sent letters to every resident twice over the summer,” he said. “We tried to have open discussions and discuss it publicly at our meetings.” The night before the election, Radcliffe said he heard a rumor that kindergarten busing would be cut if the levy passed, which wasn’t true.”It’s the hearsay out there that hurts,” he said of the election results. In spite of the outcome of the levy the second time around, Radcliffe said he is thankful for everyone who came out and supported the levy, through volunteer work or on the ballot.
“The fact that we increased the voter turnout is good,” he said, regardless of the outcome.
“(The levy committee) will continue to work for the best interest of the student,” he said. “We are all just volunteer parents trying to do what we feel is right for the kids.”
Reitenbach feels the economy is the major reason why Avon residents keep voting down the operating levy request.”Like all communities, we have people … if they have not lost their jobs … they have had their fringe benefit packets cut and/or eliminated,” he said. “Voting no is certainly understandable.”
But the district still has to ask voters to pass the same levy in November, Reitenbach said.
“We are charged with the responsibility to educate children to the best of our ability with the monies we are given,” he said. “If you run an efficient school district, which we honestly believe we do, the only way to give our children the best education possible is to ask for the money.”
Reitenbach doesn’t think the economy is the only thing that contributed to the levy failure.”The other thing that is happening is there is a growing discontent in this country about government entities, and we certainly heard loud (Aug. 3) that people in our community do not want anymore taxation, and we understand that, but again, at the same time, we would ask that people understand we are running a very lean and efficient school district. We only ask for money when we need it.”While some people may be angry about state or federal tax increases they have no control over, Reitenbach said, “The only place that they can say no is on local issues.” At the same time, Reitenbach said, “Are people voting no because of the reasons I just gave, or is it something that the school district is in fact failing to do? That’s something we need to ask ourselves.”
The Avon Board of Education will have to discuss cuts that could be made to keep the district solvent.
Radcliffe didn’t share specific cuts the board would zero in on.
“We are set up for a meeting the 17th of this month,” he said. “It’s fairly early to get into that. Obviously we are back on in November (with the same levy). We had that list before of things that were there (to cut) and we have to go back and look more deeply at things.”
Since teacher contracts have already been negotiated for one year, Radcliffe said cuts in that area probably wouldn’t be discussed until spring 2011.
“People will demand that we start cutting out sports and music, and none of that stuff we want to do,” he said, adding he expects others to demand to cut teachers and their pay. “People will demand all sorts of things. It will be some interesting discussions over the next couple of months.” A failure at the November election would mean the district wouldn’t get any additional money in 2011, Reitenbach said. “That’s why the 2011-12 budget is going to be really impacted,” he said. “Not to mention we have a renewal on the ballot in 2011.” (SEE Related Story on Page 1) “We don’t enjoy coming to the community and asking for more money, but we have the responsibility to educate our kids,” Reitenbach said.Though the odds are against the levy, Weigman said, “I think we need to be careful about chopping our way to success.”With three-fourths of the Avon voters not having any children in the school district, Weigman said the campaign needs to be focused in a different direction.
“We aren’t losing the votes because the parents aren’t involved,” he said. “We need to find a way to flip the other 75 percent of people to yes.”A third tryTrying to get voters to approve the same levy after failing it twice already may be a challenge for the district, but Radcliffe stands behind the 5.9 mills that have been requested.
“We are trying to get through with the least amount of impact to the residents,” he said. “The bottom line is the kids are who we are trying to serve. It’s hard to go to them and say, ‘Well, let’s not give you what we think you need.'”
“We believe that the 5.9 is the right millage to stabilize the district through 2014,” Reitenbach said. “Nothing has changed that picture.”
Weigman isn’t too optimistic about the Nov. 2 election.
“I believe it doesn’t have a prayer,” he said. “I think we really shot ourselves in the foot.”
The evening of the election, he said he had phone calls from several people.
Instead of people venting about the failure, Weigman said, “The anger people directed toward me last night was, ‘Why is the board coming back with the same number?'”
The Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17 in the Heritage North Elementary School media center.Contact Rebecca Turman at firstname.lastname@example.org