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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Willoughby-Eastlake Schools At A 'Crossroad' Ahead Of Levy Vote

Willoughby-Eastlake Superintendent Steve Thompson talks to residents about emergency levy. [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]
Willoughby-Eastlake Superintendent Steve Thompson at Willoughby Senior Center

In a recent letter to the community, Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools Superintendent Steve Thompson, said the district is “at a crossroad.”

It is a fiscal situation so dire that if the operating levy on the March ballot is not passed, there will have to be $5 million in cuts, on top of the millions cut from the schools that operating levies were voted down in August and November of last year.

At a public meeting Tuesday at the Willoughby Senior Center, Thompson continued to plead his case in favor of the levy. The 10-year, 4.94 mill levy would add an additional $173 a year in taxes on a $100,000 house. There are two reasons the levy is back on the ballot, Thompson said.

“First and foremost, House Bill 920. If you take a look at what House Bill 920 is, it freezes revenue from the moment it’s passed and it never increases,” said Thompson. “And then, you couple that with our loss in tangible personal property tax, which was an $8.5 million cut in state funding. And you have the perfect storm. And that is why we're on the ballot.”

Last November, 53 percent of voters said no to the same operating levy, forcing the district to make a wide array of cuts. There was a reduction in busing, cuts to marching band and drama, and middle school and freshman sports.

Passing the levy would restore those programs, Thompson said. Voting it down, however, would force the district to make an additional $5 million in cuts.   

“It’s overwhelming is the sense I feel. It’s sad,” said Thompson. “If we don’t pass this levy, it will be economically devastating not only to this school district but the community at large.”

Dozens of residents attended the meeting, including homeowners who had already decided to vote no on the levy but still wanted to hear the district’s case in its favor. Resident Joe Trgo said rather than put the burden on the residents, the district should appeal to the state for additional funds.

“It's just getting way out of hand. Now my taxes have gone beyond what I can even afford,” said Trgo. “And even the people older than me, that are not as fortunate and are living on Social Security, cannot afford this. And they supported the schools for 40 or 50 years. I think enough is enough.”

Trgo said he’s voting no after years of voting yes on school levies. Susan Srnovrsnik said she’s in the same position.

“I believe in supporting the schools, I really do,” said Srnovrsnik, “but my taxes are so high.”

During the meeting, which included many questions from residents, Thompson told the crowd that at the very least he wanted them to have a clearer picture of what the district is facing financially then they did prior to the meeting.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”