Lakota levy passes; Middletown, Fairfield levies fail

9:21 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 Local News

Voters on Tuesday defeated tax issues to support new school buildings in Fairfield and Middletown, while Lakota Local Schools passed its first operating levy in eight years.

All three tax issues were decided by the slimmest of margins.

The 5.5-mill continuing combination levy for Lakota schools — that will generate $13.8 million per year — won voter support by 234 votes across the district’s 70 precincts, according to final, unofficial results from Butler County Board of Elections.

The bond issues sought by Fairfield and Middletown schools to support construction projects were defeated narrowly by voters. Fairfield’s 2.62-mill bond issue lost by 58 votes, and Middletown’s hope for a 3.95-mill bond issue lost by 238 votes.

The losses put both districts in jeopardy of forfeiting state funds that could be used to aid in the construction of new school facilities.

After three failed levy attempts, Lakota officials are celebrating the passage of their first levy since 2005. The 5.5-mill levy that voters supported will cost a property owner about $192 a year for a home valued at $100,000. The approximate $13.8 million generated each year from the levy will support both operations and permanent improvements.

On the operating side, 3.5 mills or $8.8 million will support academic programs, utilities and transportation. The remaining 2.0 mills for permanent improvements can only be used for capital improvement projects such as building construction or renovations, equipment and vehicle purchases and other items with an estimated life of five or more years.

“It’s a celebration unlike no other celebration we’ve had in awhile,” said Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia from a levy watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings in West Chester Twp. “We’re grateful. It’s a close race but the majority has spoken.”

Mantia said priorities for the levy funding — including updated security and technology — were developed through close partnership with the community during countless Community Conversation meetings.

Mantia said the district will begin the process immediately to hire more school resource officers and reinstate busing for grades 2-6.

Juli Spata, 41, of West Chester Twp., said she supported the Lakota levy and worked on the campaign to encourage a high voter turnout. Spata has two children in the district — Sydney, 12, who takes advanced classes, and Ethan, 10, who is on an individualized education plan for Turrets syndrome.

Spata said her family moved to West Chester Twp. so her children could attend Lakota schools. She has since seen the district cut programs and fears further cuts could impact the gifted and arts programs.

“It takes a community to raise a kid; without a community, our schools can’t thrive,” Spata said. “There’s nothing left to cut. These kids need to be exposed to all of the options that are available to them.”

The Middletown City School District’s failed request for a 3.95-mill bond issue would have generated more than $55 million to support about $95 million in construction projects. The tax issue would have cost a property owner about $147.36 a year for a home valued at $100,000.

If the district doesn’t get a bond issue passed by next May, it will forfeit $40 million in state funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The district has a need to replace the 91-year-old middle school and expand the high school through renovation, said Superintendent Sam Ison.

“We’re disappointed because we wanted to have the same opportunity to update facilities that our neighbors have,” Ison said. “We want to be able to get that money from the state.”

Ison said the deadline for the February election is rapidly approaching, and the board of education will likely seek another vote next May.

“We will maintain the (middle school) as best we can,” Ison said. “The high school we’re looking forward to expand and create an environment to lead us into 21st century skills. The safety and security puts us at a disadvantage and in a vulnerable spot.”

Sherry McNabb of Middletown said she voted against the bond issue because she believes her taxes are high enough. She’s recently become employed again after eight months without a job or unemployment benefits.

“I feel like not just this district but a lot don’t use money wisely,” McNabb said. “In the hard economy we’ve all had to tighten belts and (schools) should too.”

Robb Reichle of Middletown said he supported the bond issue because he’s got two young children, in second and fifth grades, attending Middletown schools. He said compared to other tax issues in the county, the increase in Middletown seemed the most affordable.

“You always want the best for your kids,” Reichle said. “If you don’t take care of the schools everyone will home school. The better the facility is the more children want to go to school.”

Much like Middletown’s situation, the Fairfield district has until next May to successfully pass a bond issue in order to garner $19 million in state support from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said Superintendent Paul Otten.

The district’s request for a 2.62-mill bond issue would’ve generated $61 million to support the demolition of Fairfield Central Elementary and Freshman School; and building of two new elementary schools and a new freshman building, according to district officials. The tax issue would have cost a property owner about $91.70 a year for a home valued at $100,000.

“It is very disappointing that we missed an opportunity to receive $19 million from the state to help us change our district for the better,” Otten said. “The fact that it was so close showed that we had a lot of the community behind us.”

The Fairfield bond issue has the potential to have an automatic recount. Unofficial totals put it within a half percent, but once the official count is conducted — which happens 10 days after Tuesday’s election — it could fall outside of the automatic-count threshold.

Michael Klenk, of Fairfield Twp., said he voted against the Fairfield bond issue and has never been a proponent of school tax levies. Klenk said the United States has one of the highest per pupil expenditure rates but still fails to improve the quality of education.

“I’m not willing to give more money to school levies,” Klenk said, who sent his children to parochial schools. “(The district) needs to be run like a business. They have to be more responsible in regards to these funds.”

Laurie Bambrick, of Fairfield Twp., said she made sure to make it to the polls on Tuesday because it’s her responsibility as a citizen. Bambrick said she supported the bond issue because the millage didn’t translate into a huge annual increase for her.

“My children are grown but we’ve still got to educate our children,” Bambrick said. “I am for responsible spending; they better take care of the money I give them.”

Carrie O’Neal, chair of the Building Fairfield’s Future Now committee, said she’s proud of the work that was accomplished by the campaign members.

“But I can’t help but feel disappointed for our community; I believe that this was the right thing for our kids, for our schools and for our community and I’m disappointed that the voters didn’t take the opportunity to receive $19 million in funding from the state of Ohio,” O’Neal said.

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