LORAIN — The Lorain school board still hasn’t made a decision about putting a levy on the November ballot.
With questions looming about how the district leadership is spending money, school board member Tony Dimacchia said he isn’t sure he could support a levy even if it does go before voters.
“I’ve been through cuts in this district. I was part of and approved cutting athletics in this district, and I can tell you I will never approve to cut programs ever again because I’ve seen what it does to children,” he said. “I understand what happens when you don’t have enough money. But when we’re spending money outside of the classroom and not on children it’s hard for me to responsibly say, ‘Yes I would vote for a levy.’ I never thought I’d consider voting no, but if I had to go to vote on a levy today I’m not sure what I’d do.”
Putting a levy on the ballot is the one major power left to the school board after state House Bill 70 placed a virtually all-powerful CEO at the head of the district, effectively giving him the authority of a school board and a superintendent.
He is allowed to make all final hiring, firing and spending decisions and does not have to get approval through another entity before making them.
Dimacchia and other board members expressed concerns that Hardy is spending too much on administrative costs for the next school year, with additional building leaders being brought to each school.
Board members acknowledged that Hardy has said he isn’t costing the district additional money — positions are either being cut through attrition or being realigned — but they still have concerns.
“We have certain amounts of financial information but what we don’t have is contextually what we’re adding and removing, and we haven’t had the opportunity to ask any questions around that to make sure we understand it,” board member Tim Williams said.
The school board is in the midst of deciding whether or not to add a five-year renewal levy, which generates more than $3 million a year, onto the ballot in November. If they decide against it, the levy can be put in front of voters in May or November 2019 before the money runs out.
“It is a big topic in our community, and this board has to come to a conclusion on what we’re going to do to get this cliffhanger to some sort of outcome,” board vice president Mark Ballard said. “We owe the community an explanation about putting a levy on or not, and we have to be able to give our reasons. I’m getting hit from all different angles with it and rightly so. It’s a shame that people come to their elected officials and we can’t give them a straight answer.”
Williams cited a lack of communication from the administration as the root of the problem, saying since Hardy took over the district last summer there has been “zero communication” between the two.
District treasurer and chief strategy and innovation officer Josh Hill agreed with Williams but disagreed with the board member when he said asking residents for the renewal levy would be “reckless.”
“It could be perceived as reckless because of a lack of understanding in our present capacity,” Williams said. “If we were to make this ask, we would be making this ask more than half blind.”
Hill said should the board decide to put a levy on the ballot, the board would need to approve sending it to the Lorain County Auditor’s Office to be certified and then they would need to approve another resolution to actually place it before voters.
Bambi Dillon, who heads up the entity usually responsible for levy campaigns, Citizens for Lorain City Schools, said just because residents don’t attend the board meetings or Hardy’s town hall meetings doesn’t mean people don’t know what’s going on and have a lack of concerns.
“They want to see what’s going to happen with (Hardy’s) plan,” she said. “I think it’s going to be hard to pass a levy because they want to see his plan in process. Right now there’s not any plan yet in process, so how do you expect the public to vote on something they haven’t seen? They’ve just seen people being hired and local people not being hired.”
Dillon said she thinks getting a levy passed in November would be difficult based on what she’s hearing from community members.
“I really think it would be a battle for November,” she said. “You guys might say yes to that, and I’m never a negative Nellie but that’s what I’m hearing. A lot of people don’t come to meetings but they pay attention to what’s in the paper; and I think it’ll be a hard battle, but I’m always up for anything.”
Dimacchia said unless something changes with the administration and its communication with the board, he doesn’t see that happening.
“We need good, effective communication and we need our questions answered by the people that need to answer them and if they don’t have those answers then I personally cannot put a levy out there,” he said. “They’re going to have to find some money to support their administrative costs and the nonsense they’re bringing into this district, and I can’t support that.”
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