Levy back on the ballot for West Clermont

The West Clermont Local School District has been forced to make more than $52 million in cuts in the last seven years, including the elimination of 224 positions, and according to Superintendent Dr. Gary Brooks, the situation is becoming even more dire.

“We are teetering on the edge of the state coming in and taking control,” Dr. Brooks said.

Dr. Brooks said state auditors have made appearances at school board meetings because of the district’s low fund balance, and in an effort to prevent state control, the district will be back on the ballot again this November asking for a 7.9 mill, 10-year emergency levy.

“We feel we have cut essential services, teachers, administrators, transportation. We have done pretty much everything the state requires,” Dr. Brooks said.

A significant round of cuts came after West Clermont attempted to pass a levy in the May 2011 election, and the 7.9 mill levy failed with 60.22 percent of voters against the levy and 39.78 percent of voters in favor of the levy.

“We are not naive enough to think this will be a simple election,” Dr. Brooks said about asking a second time for a levy during a rough economic climate. “The community will have to make the choice.”

Dr. Brooks said only about one-fourth of the residents in the district are directly impacted by the cuts the district has had to make. And while he understands it is difficult trying to convince the other portion of residents to vote for the levy, it is a job the district is ready to undertake.

“I think the board will step up to their part,” Dr. Brooks said about election participation. “We’re looking for more avenues of communication. We have to go to where people get their information.”

Dr. Brooks said they are looking into utilizing social media and having small group educational sessions to help spread the word about what is at stake if the levy does not pass.

Back in May, the district warned that if the levy failed, they would have to make more cuts and raise fees.

True to their word, they reduced their bus fleet by 50 percent, limited transportation to only students who live farther than two miles from school and eliminated high school bussing altogether. In addition, fees for extra-curricular activities jumped from $50 per student to $495 per student.

Dr. Brooks said since the cuts were made and the fees were raised, he has received a number of phone calls, especially about the transportation changes.

“It puts an immediate hardship on families,” Dr. Brooks said.

And while the decision was one the district did not want to make, the financial savings of cutting transportation made it necessary.

“It’s one of the few things we are allowed to cut under state expenditures,” Dr. Brooks said.

Dr. Brooks said reducing the transportation to state minimum saves $3 million. He said that is equivalent to around 53 teaching positions, a number he said they could not possibly cut with class sizes already higher than state averages.

Because more cars will be on the road with parents driving their children to school, Dr. Brooks said the changes will impact other members of the community as well.

“Transportation will impact their morning and afternoon drives with increased traffic flow,” Dr. Brooks said.

Dr. Brooks likened West Clermont’s situation to Little Miami Local School District, the only other district that will be back on the Clermont County ballot in November. The state has already stepped in at the district, which fell into financial turmoil a couple of years ago.

Dr. Brooks said while reductions have helped solve the problem in the short term for West Clermont, the only long term way to solve the problem is a change in revenue.

“The financial picture for the district is pretty bleak,” Dr. Brooks said. “That translates into many fewer opportunities for students.”