Pandemic doomed chances of Oregon school levy

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Oregon City Schools officials expected the 4.1 mill operating levy to get little support from voters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused massive unemployment just weeks before the primary election.
        “I don’t think anyone should be surprised that the levy did not pass,” said Board Member Jeff Ziviski, who is also chairman of the board’s finance committee.
        Gov. Mike DeWine delayed the state’s original primary on March 17 to a mail-in primary election on April 28.
        “The fact that it was on the ballot during an unprecedented time where the election was held by mail only and that the economy came to a halt, causing many Ohioans to be laid off and without income, did not help the levy's chances,” said Ziviski.
        According to the unofficial results from the Lucas County Board of Elections, the levy was defeated by a vote of 55.98 percent to 43.06 percent.
        “The final levy count has not yet been released by the board of elections, but based on preliminary results, we are moving forward as if the levy has not passed,” Superintendent Hal Gregory told The Press last week. “OCS [Oregon City Schools] will need a levy to pass in the future to continue to offer the variety of programs for students. No decision has been made when a levy will be placed on the ballot. All of our current programs are essential. I will continue to do everything I can to keep our schools strong, relevant and financially sound.”
Budget cuts
        The board has not met to discuss the levy or the possibility of putting it back on the ballot during the general election in November, said Ziviski.
        “I imagine that that discussion will take place at our next board meeting on Tuesday, May 19 at 6 p.m.” he said.
        It will be conducted via Zoom and broadcast on the district’s YouTube channel.
        “If it is put on the November ballot, it will be the result of an open discussion and vote at a board meeting. It will not come as a recommendation from the Finance Committee like it did last time. I believe the board would have to vote on a potential levy no later than at its July board meeting for it to be on the ballot in November,” said Ziviski.
        Shortly after the board voted to place the levy on the March ballot, the Finance Committee met and had already begun the discussions of coming up with potential reductions that were to be implemented regardless of the outcome of the levy, according to Ziviski. Those discussions were slowed down due to the pandemic. School officials had to focus on how to continue to provide education after DeWine issued a stay-at-home order.
        At the last school board meeting on April 21, just one week before the primary election, Gregory was not very optimistic of the district’s finances as a result of the pandemic.
        “We are anticipating hard times ahead,” he said. “I heard from a state consultant that the State of Ohio was actually looking at cutting all budgets by up to 2 and a half percent this year. This was not formal or official. But it lends itself to the idea that there are people in the State of Ohio who are talking about reductions this year. Who that affects, I’m not sure.”
        He added that Jane Fruth, the district’s treasurer, had heard that the state could cut up to 20 percent of the budget next year.
Cut in funding
        The district’s financial situation became even cloudier on Tuesday when DeWine announced reductions for the last two months of the fiscal year in K-12 education funding from the state, said Ziviski.  
        Preliminary numbers show that Oregon Schools are expected to see a reduction in State Foundation funding of approximately $642,000.
        There is no doubt OCS will be implementing reductions for the 20-21 school year, according to Gregory.
        “Based on State Foundation reductions and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, OCS will take necessary steps to reduce areas of the district, which have the least amount of impact to student programming. I will be working with the district treasurer and board of education in the coming weeks on the final plan,” said Gregory.
        “As a district, we do have some savings resulting from the closures of schools in areas such as substitute pay, bus fuel, supplies, and utilities,” said Ziviski. “This will help offset the state funding reductions, but the district still has some tough decisions to make to close the gap. Then looking into the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, there are rumors that K-12 education funding could be reduced by 10%, which would cause the district to have to reduce even deeper than we are currently having to look at.”


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