OBERLIN — Even before the fate of Tuesday’s 4-mill emergency operating levy was known, the Firelands School Board planned to head off a projected deficit by making $800,000 in cuts over the next two years.
Unfortunately, those cuts aren’t going to be enough following Tuesday’s rejection by voters of the five-year issue. “It’s tough, really tough,” Firelands Schools Superintendent Greg Ring said.
“We went in with an 81-vote deficit (in Erie County). We knew it was a done deal in Erie County," he said. "We kept chipping away at it in Lorain County (where the levy passed by a mere 11 votes) but in the end we were just a few short.”
Unofficial results from the Lorain County Board of Elections had the levy passing by a slim 1,835 to 1,824-vote margin, but losing by a 528 to 447-vote total in Erie County, according to unofficial board of elections numbers there.
The 70-vote difference placed the issue a full percent beyond the half-percent margin of difference that qualifies an issue for an automatic recount.
About 80 percent of the district’s voters live in Lorain County.
“Nearly half the district supported it and saw the need,” a clearly disappointed Ring said. “We’ll just try to build on that. That’s all you can do.”
Ring said the district will be faced with making “substantial cuts” next year if a levy isn’t passed by the May election. “It’s up to the board to weigh going back on the ballot in May versus cuts, but I think the support would be there to give it another shot before we have to make more serious cuts.”
The issue would have generated $1.2 million a year and gone a long way to ward off a projected $113,000 deficit in the 2011-12 school year, and a potential $2.6 million deficit by the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The $800,000 in cuts over the two –year period include elimination of 14 teachers, five non-teaching jobs, the post of curriculum director, and 15 percent cuts in budgets for the high school, middle and elementary schools.
If cuts come, personnel will definitely bear the brunt of them. “When 80 percent of your operating budget is personnel costs, any future cuts are going to hurt,” Ring has said.
The 2,000-plus student school system takes in a high school and elementary school on Oberlin Road, and a middle school in South Amherst, which was absorbed by the system some years ago when Firelands merged with the South Amherst school district.