GIRARD SCHOOLS If levy fails, board to make cuts

& lt;a & gt;By PETER MILLIKEN & lt;/a & gt;
GIRARD -- If a new 7.4-mill continuous operating levy fails March 2, the school board would have to contemplate a variety of unpalatable cutbacks, according to Superintendent Marty Santillo.
"It will not be the same Girard school system," if the levy is defeated, Santillo told an audience of several dozen people at a school levy forum Wednesday in the high school auditorium.
"There'd be a very limited amount of busing," likely offered only to pupils living beyond a two-mile radius of school, he said. Extracurricular activities, such as the speech team and athletics would be "definitely on the table to look at elimination," retiring teachers might not be replaced and kindergarten might be cut from a full-day to a half-day program, he said.
"If you don't have a solid school district, who will move here?" he asked rhetorically. "If the school district's not strong, generally what happens is your community tends to deteriorate," Santillo said.
No new funds since '88
If it passes, the new levy, which would generate about $1,040,000 in new annual revenue, would be the district's first new operating levy since 1988, said Mark Bello, district treasurer. The owner of a home appraised at $50,000 would pay $113.32 a year in additional property taxes under the new levy, he said.
The levy on the March 2 ballot is significantly larger than the 5.9-mill operating levy that was defeated in November because the district will now lose a year of revenue from it, Bello said.
Under state law, if the tax passes in March, it won't be collected until Jan. 1, 2005. Had the levy passed in November, collections would have begun Jan. 1, 2004, he explained.
Using up reserves
The district has been operating at a deficit for the last several years and covering it from reserves, Bello said, adding that those reserves are likely to be depleted by the end of this year.
If the levy fails, the district, which is declared by the state auditor to be in a state of fiscal caution, risks going into fiscal emergency and having a state financial oversight commission take over its finances, he said.
"I think the levy is needed. We have to give them the monies that they need," to educate children, said Fran Wilson, of Ella Street, forum moderator and president of the League of Women Voters of Trumbull County. However, she added, "If this were for more buildings, I'd probably think differently."
Wilson noted that the voter registration deadline for the March 2 primary election is Monday.