Delaware celebrates Martin Luther King at 19th annual breakfast

January 17, 2012

[caption width="250" caption=" Members of the Olentangy for Kids campaign celebrate the school levy’s passage Tuesday. "][/caption]

The Olentangy Local School District’s combined levy and bond issue was passed by voters Tuesday.

Of the 17,893 votes, about 53 percent were in favor of the issue, according to complete but unofficial results compiled by the Delaware County Board of Elections.

Olentangy School Board President Julie Wagner Feasel attributed the success to volunteers with the pro-levy campaign group, Olentangy For Kids, which was formed in 1998.

“We haven’t lost one (levy) since Olentangy For Kids formed,” said Wagner Feasel. “It’s the volunteers every time who get us the win.”

She said that levy issues were not so readily approved by voters before the campaign group was established.

Before the district’s levies began gaining voter support, she said that one school had to use trash buckets to collect rainwater because there was not money to make appropriate roof repairs. Wagner Feasel also noted that the district improved from a C to an A academic rating since the levies started passing.

OFK director Kristen Fenker said about 700 volunteers contributed thousands of hours since they began the campaign around Christmas.

“There’s nothing like the Olentangy volunteers,” said Fenker.

District superintendent Wade Lucas said the group “definitely made a difference,” yet added that the district’s work to find efficiencies will continue.

“Now the work really starts. These are not good economic times,” said Lucas. “It’s just nice to see a community support education like the Olentangy community does.”

Yet for the members of the opposing campaign, the issue had less to do with supporting education and more to do with how the district spends money.

“We don’t have a funding problem. We have a spending problem,” said Tracy Ruegg, the treasurer of Responsible Olentangy Citizens (ROC), the group that opposed the levy.

“We would strongly request Dr. Lucas to make some budget cuts, except for buses and extra curricular, and save money instead of spending it,” said Ruegg. “That’s our biggest message.”

Ruegg added that “voters don’t feel empowered to demand that the district conduct business in a different way.”

This was the first levy ROC actively campaigned against. Whereas Ruegg said ROC had about 150 volunteers, Fenker said OFK had about 700.

Also, ROC had a budget of $2,000, according to Ruegg. OFK treasurer Mark Iannotta said his group spent about $60,000 on this levy campaign.

“So cost per vote, ours is pennies to the thousands that (OFK) spent,” said Ruegg.

Ruegg also requested that Lucas work with “business savvy” members of the ROC group, specifically a human resource consultant who would offer free advice on how to reduce cost per person on insurance benefits.

Now that the permanent 7.9-mill operating levy and a 0.5-mill bond issue has passed residents in the district can expect to pay an additional $241.94 per $100,000 of home valuation each year. The Delaware County Auditor is to begin collections in January 2012.

The levy is expected to generate $25.2 million annually and is to be spent on operating expenses such as salaries, utilities and supplies.

The bond issue component is expected to generate an additional $24.4 million. About half of that money is to be spent on the district’s 16th elementary school. The rest is to be spent on capital improvement projects, technology, buses and textbooks.

Had the levy-bond issue failed, Olentangy board members said that extra- and co-curricular activities would be cut as a means to preserve all academic programs. The activities that faced elimination included athletics, music, performing arts.

Before the issue passed, the board promised to trim $4.5 million from the budget. Of that about $1.8 million is to be reduced by eliminating up to 24.5 administrative, certified and classified staff positions, according to Lucas.