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District officials to host forums on financial situation

By JOHN SHERIDAN

The way the Westerville City School District sees it, the recent lack of support for district levies is due to a failure to communicate.

That is why instead of considering millage for a potential levy in March, district officials will first hold at least two public meetings where residents can voice opinions and tell them why they believe the district has real needs right now or say no still means no.

The first forum will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Westerville North High School media center, 950 County Line Road. The second forum will take place at 6 p.m. Monday in the Westerville South High School commons, 303 S. Otterbein Ave., before a regularly scheduled school board meeting.

The town hall meetings were suggested by school board member Jeff Copeland at Thursday's school board meeting.

"I would like to see open forums where we can talk without bitterness, where we can share ideas, statistics and build consensus," said Copeland.

Copeland's comments came after district officials and a packed house of about 200 people heard bleak financial projections from district Treasurer Dan Shively.

With no further cuts and without passing a levy in March, the district faces a $12.5 million shortfall for fiscal year 2005. Even if a levy would be passed in March, the district could not begin collecting taxes until January 2005, according to officials. Because of this, about $8.8 million must be cut from the 2005 fiscal year budget.

Before seeking Issue 16, the 7.5-mill levy voters turned down by a 57 to 43 percent margin Nov. 4, officials said they would have to slash the budget. There is no way to avoid these cuts now, they said.

Projected cuts include 56 teaching positions, 12 middle school duty monitors, five administrative-supervision positions, 15 secretarial positions, eight custodial positions and six guidance counselors.

Also in response to the projections, high school days will be reduced from six class periods to five. Class sizes at all levels will be raised to state maximums. There will be state minimum bus transportation with stops up to a half mile apart, and students and their parents will have to pay 100 percent of athletic participation fees, $467 per high school sport and $202 per middle school sport.

A final decision on cuts is anticipated next month.

During the public comment portion of Thursday's meeting, several community members beseeched the board to communicate better with residents. However, during the Issue 16 campaign residents had access to three Web sites, two town hall meetings, two school financing forums and a handful of school board meetings, which were sparsely attended by the community.

Louise Golden, the parent of a Westerville Central High School ninth-grader, said her daughter came home crying shortly after the levy was defeated. She asked if parents could pay the district extra tuition so they can pick up extra credits, especially for music classes.

Westerville resident Peg Duffy accused the board of trying to pass the levy with strong-arm tactics.

"If you can't win by logic, you try brute force," she said to board members.

Michael Kelley, leader of pro-levy political action group WeVote, said any town hall meeting must have enough structure so that it doesn't degenerate into a non-productive free-for-all.

*Forums on school district funding matters are set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Westerville North High School, 950 County Line Road, and 6 p.m. Monday at Westerville South High School, 303 S. Otterbein Ave.

Read more Central Ohio community news at www.SNPonline.com

Westerville Voters On Target for Education