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Levy renewal gives Urbana time to plan

District will still make cuts approved earlier this year.

Voters in Urbana overwhelmingly approved a five-year, 9.75-mill renewal levy last week, a result district officials said will allow them to avoid cuts that would have slashed busing to state minimums and required eliminating extracurricular activities.

The levy’s passage means board members can also look ahead to the fall, when the district’s long-term financial picture should be more certain after the state budget is set, said Charles Thiel, superintendent of Urbana City Schools.

The renewal generates about $2.4 million in revenue for the district and costs about $298 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home. The levy was already on the books and will not mean a tax increase for voters.

“It allows us to breathe for a little while and see what the biennium budget brings,” Thiel said.

The district has cut about $1 million from its budget this year to narrow a projected budget deficit. Earlier this year, school board members approved a plan to close Local Intermediate school, eliminate numerous supplemental contracts, eliminate field trips and institute a one-time $100 transportation fee for students who participate in sports.

Those cuts will remain in place. If the renewal levy had failed this spring, additional cuts would have been required.

The renewal levy passed easily, gaining approval from slightly more than 75 percent of district voters, according to final, unofficial results from the Champaign County Board of Elections. It was the widest margin of victory for a renewal levy that district staff could find, dating back to 1951, Thiel said.

That level of support can be attributed to students, faculty and staff members who went door-to-door meeting with voters and explaining the purpose of the levy, Thiel said.

“Having that face-to-face communication really helped the community understand what the issue was and what was at stake,” he said.

Mary Binegar, president of the Urbana Association of Classroom Teachers, said staff members were active in promoting the levy and explaining it to residents.

“The levy was essential for the services we currently have,” she said.

Statewide, the levy was one of 46 renewal levies that voters approved, while five were rejected, according to information from the Ohio School Boards Association. While 90 percent of renewal levies across the state were approved, only about 42 percent of new levy requests were approved, according to information from the OSBA.

It is too early to tell whether Urbana City Schools will seek additional revenue in the fall, Thiel said. It’s not yet clear how much state funding the district will receive.

“That will determine what we’ll need to do in the fall,” Thiel said.

If the district does not need additional revenue, it would allow board members to look ahead at other renewal levies that are on the horizon. A 3.5-mill permanent improvement levy will expire in 2014. Board members could place that issue on the ballot early, and if it’s approved, it would provide a more solid picture of the district’s finances moving forward, Thiel said.

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