Zanesville School District voters say 'no'

May 3, 2006

ZANESVILLE - After a series of cuts that have affected the teaching and administration staff, contentious negotiations, and other decisions to offset a projected budget, voters were not ready to give the Zanesville City Schools operating money.

The district's 6.9-mill emergency operating levy was defeated Tuesday by an unofficial count of 1,246 for and 3,501 against.

"Obviously we're very disappointed, but the people have spoken," said Michael Pockl, superintendent.

He said it was disappointing that after making reductions in the district's expenses to the tune of $6.5 million, that more cuts would have to be made.

The levy would have raised approximately $2.7 million a year, over five years. It would have cost a property owner with a $100,000 piece of property $211.31 a year. The average home in Zanesville is $60,600, which meant it would cost the owner $128.06 a year or $10.67 a month.

The district is already under a fiscal caution designation by the state, meaning it had to submit a plan to the state on Tuesday to show how it would offset a projected $1.9 million deficit in 2007.

The plan includes a series of cuts the district has already made.

Over the past two months, the school board has approved three phases of cuts. The first involved the non renewal of eight administrative positions, including the two middle school principals. The second involved a reduction in force that resulted in 18 teachers being cuts.

The most recent decisions were made at a school board meeting last week, where the board agreed to cut back on its busing, raise the pay to participate fees and looked at developing a plan to make cuts to the supplemental contracts. The board's decision to cut busing means students living less than a mile from school would not be bused next year. The potential saving for the district could be $206,000.

The pay to participate rates were raised in order to pay for transportation costs associated with activities. Given the rising gas prices, officials felt an increase was needed in order to cover costs, which under the current rate were not be covered.

If the levy had passed, the money generated would have allowed officials to take back some of these decisions.

District officials have looked at many areas over the past several years to make cuts. Materials have been cut, personnel have been cut either through attrition, non renewals or a reduction in force. Pockl took an $11,000 pay cut in order to help offset costs.

But officials knew this levy would be a tough sell.

Last year, the district had a 7.9-mill levy on the ballot which was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin. Because of that defeat, officials decided not to go back to voters in 2005, but instead waited.

When the board voted to put this levy on the ballot, the district was already in the midst of negotiations with the Zanesville Education Association, which represents the districts teachers, guidance counselors and other certified staff. Officials chose not to run a high profile campaign has it had in 2005 in part because it was in the middle of negotiations where strike notice had been issued.

The board will now have to decide on its next course of action, which could include putting another levy on the ballot later this year.

Pockl said given rising expenses to people's personal incomes he can understand why people would not vote for a tax increase. However, he said the district will go back to the voters.

"We cannot continue to operate the system without local revenue," he said.