Levy voters turn down millage increase

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By Steve Waters

Levy County voters on Tuesday turned down a school board referendum to add 0.25 mills to the school district’s millage rate starting in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Voters turned down the school board referendum by a vote of 6,091-5,916, or 50.72 percent to 49.27 percent. Using this fiscal year’s numbers, the vote could cost the school district about $1.5 million over the next two years.
The school district’s current millage rate of 7.653 was approved by the school board in September. The additional quarter mill is intact this fiscal year, since the board approved it by a supermajority. The quarter mill is expected to bring in $493,639 in local funds, and the state will contribute 50 percent, for a total of $767,297 for this fiscal year. Effective July 1, 2011, the quarter mill will not be part of the school district’s millage rate.
By state law, a referendum had to be placed on the ballot for the school district to keep the additional quarter mill for an another two years. Superintendent Bob Hastings said Tuesday night he was expecting this outcome, with most voters he spoke to not wanting to have the quarter mill on their taxes, despite his arguing that keeping the additional quarter mill would help maintain current levels of school funding.
“It really doesn’t surprise me at all,” Hastings said.
Hastings said that another decrease in funding was a concern for the school district in the years ahead. Decreases in full-time student enrollment, which determines funding levels from the state, will cost the district another $1.3 million, and the end of federal stimulus funds next year will remove an additional $2 million, Hastings said. The recently passed Teacher Jobs Bill will contribute $1.3 million to the district next year for teachers’ salaries, lessening the financial burden.
“These are just tremendous cuts for education,” he said. “It’s going to put a strain on us next year.”
In another blow to the school district, the revision to the state’s Class Size Amendment failed to gain the 60 percent of votes it needed to pass, receiving a 55-percent vote for “yes.” The revision lessened the penalties for schools that did not meet the amendments’ requirements on a class-by-class basis.
Levy County voters approved the revision by a vote of 6,518-5,508, or 54.19 percent to 45.80 percent.
Hastings said the district has hired additional teachers at area schools, but added it’s difficult to meet the amendment’s requirements in a rural county.
“In these small, rural counties, you can’t just meet it 100 percent,” Hastings said. “You’re going to have a civics class over by two (students), or a third-grade math class over by one.”
Hastings said no cuts are planned for this fiscal year, but much of the future depends on whomever is elected governor, as well as who is appointed to lead the Department of Education.
“There’s so many question marks out there right now,” Hastings said. “You just don’t know, until you know what their thinking is.”
School Board of Levy County members Rick Turner, of Yankeetown, and Cameron Asbell, of Bronson, both were reappointed to the board. They were not on the ballot since they ran for re-election unopposed. Robert Philpott, of Williston, also ran unopposed, and will replace outgoing board member G. Frank Etheridge, who is retiring after 20 years as a board member.