The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 8, 2013

Levy backers pull out win

3 votes break 18-year history for school district

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — For the first time in 18 years, voters in Brookfield Township passed an operational levy for the school district that will help bring back furloughed teachers and possibly avoid a state takeover.

The difference between pass and fail came down to three votes. An unofficial tally on the Trumbull County Elections website recorded 1,851 votes; 927 in favor of the levy and 924 against.

School officials had asked for a 4.85-mill levy that will bring the financially strapped district about $606,000 a year, enough to rehire six furloughed teachers and bring back art, home economics and some language classes. Those were some of the things lost when the board had to trim $500,000 from its budget in 2012. Additional cuts were likely to be made had the levy failed.

The levy will cost homeowners about $8 a month, based on a property valued at $65,000, which is the average value of a home in the township, according to the Trumbull County tax office.

Turnout at the township’s precincts was “steady all day,” according to Neva Miller, a precinct judge.

Sentiment toward the levy was split between young and old, according to voters leaving the polls. It was the only question on the ballot.

An elderly resident said he came to vote against the levy, because he can’t afford it. He would only identify himself as “Evans” because he said he didn’t want trouble from anyone because of his “no” vote. “I am trying to sell my house and move out of Brookfield. Things are bad here. I don’t think they realize what they are asking. Even if you vote against the levy your taxes still go up, because they reappraise every couple of years,” he said.

As he was sitting outside the polls, his cell phone rang. “That was my neighbor. Asking me for some money because he needs groceries. He’s working two jobs just to make half of what he used to. You think he can afford to pay more? What do they want the people to do?”

Another woman said she was irritated at being asked for more money. “Brookfield doesn’t have the people or the kids it used to have. All we heard about that new school was that we shouldn’t lose out on $20 million we could get to build it. So now we built it and we don’t have enough to run it. All lies,” she said. “You bet I voted no,” she added.

Others leaving the polls said they came out to support the district. “They’ve already cut a lot of classes. My son is a junior and he was lucky enough to get all the classes he needs to graduate. But they did away with the public speaking class and some of the advanced classes. If we keep on cutting, what’s going to be left?” said Jeanette Leon.

Kara Kasula, a fifth-grade teacher at neighboring Cortland School District, said she came out to support the levy. “Being a teacher myself, I think education is very important. I think it’s important for the whole community,” she said.

As far as those who were older and voted against the levy because they no longer have children in the district, “Well, somebody voted yes when their kids were there,” Kasula said.

The district is facing a $1.1 million deficit, due primarily to big cuts in state funding and a loss of taxpayer money to charter schools, according to Tim Saxton, superintendent.

Auditors from the state Department of Education were at the school last week, verifying the deficit. A school board meeting has been called for 7:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss the results.

The district has been in fiscal watch since 2005 and if the district is declared a fiscal emergency, which is still a possibility, the immediate goal becomes stabilization of finances, and that could have come at the cost of losing additional classes, the elimination of busing, a shortened school day or even a merger with a neighboring district, Saxton has warned.

Directors tried passing a 1 percent income levy in November, but that was defeated.

Saxton, a levy committee of school administrators, teachers, parents and students spent months planning to spread the word about the need for the most recent levy, and posted signs, went door-to-door and held a free pancake breakfast at the school.

He was confident that if voters understood the needs of the district they would come out to support the Warriors.

He did not return phone messages Tuesday evening.