Funding issues for the Warren and Frontier Local school districts were resoundingly rejected in Tuesday's election.
For the fifth time in two years, Warren district voters opposed a bond issue to raise the local share to build new schools with state funding. And more than three-quarters of Frontier voters rebuffed the district's attempt to pass an earned income tax levy to bolster school funding.
Warren's previous bond issue, which would have built five schools, failed by eight votes in May. On Tuesday, a modified version to construct three elementary schools and a middle school was defeated by more than 1,300.
The no votes outnumbered yes votes in each of the district's 14 precincts except Little Hocking North, where it was favored 176-164.
Warren Superintendent Tom Gibbs said he's not sure what the district's next step will be to address its aging buildings.
Frontier Local Schools 0.75 percent earned income tax
Warren Local Schools 5.4-mill bond issue and 0.5-mill levy
Source: Washington County Board of Elections.
"All of these questions are so difficult to answer because there's no clear-cut response from the community other than 'we're not happy with the plans presented to date,'" he said. "I think we all need to go back to the drawing board and broaden the conversation."
Gibbs said he wasn't surprised by Tuesday's result, noting voter turnout was lower than in the spring. He conceded that not including a new high school in the proposal may have alienated some past supporters.
Vincent resident Amanda Hearn, 29, said that disappointed her but she still voted for the bond issue.
"I think something needs to be done, and I guess that was the only option," she said.
The board selected that option after an unscientific community survey indicated support for the plan. But it wasn't enough of a change for voters like Fleming resident Jim Cain.
"It was defeated four times. The voters spoke. I did my part to defeat it a fifth," he said.
Cain, 69, said he feels the school board and administration misrepresented the condition of the current buildings, and he criticized them for essentially giving away "two perfectly good school buildings" when they closed Bartlett and Cutler elementaries.
Warren Township resident Robert Garrett, 88, said he doesn't believe new buildings are needed and resented the board tying the possible restoration of high school busing to the new issue's passage.
"I thought that was a childish thing 'cause they turned around and said if this thing passed, they'd bring busing back," he said.
The elimination of high school busing, which is not required by state law, was part of approximately $1.3 million in cuts made to free up funding for facility repairs. Gibbs and board members had indicated a willingness to reinstate busing if those funds were not needed because new schools were being built.
Newly elected board member John Nichols said Tuesday that he would support a levy to repair existing buildings if it lasted less than the 28-year period of the bond issue and thinks other residents would too.
"It's not about giving more money to support the schools. It's about where it's going and about 28 years versus a short-term levy," he said.
Gibbs said he thinks the board needs to consider all options going forward.
There was little support for the first proposed earned income tax school levy in the county, which would have taken 75 cents from every $100 earned on a paycheck by Frontier Local district residents. More than three times as many people voted against it as voted for it.
"I guess it's disappointing but not surprising," Frontier school board member Jeff Knowlton said. "I think the district's more interested in decreasing costs versus increasing revenue."
Superintendent Bruce Kidder recommended the levy, which was expected to raise more than $435,000 a year, as a way to generate funding for permanent improvements and personnel costs. Kidder, who did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, has said he would not propose putting the levy on the ballot again but would recommend that the board put forth a property tax levy instead.
The district currently has a $1.8 million reserve, but Kidder has emphasized that state funding and enrollment are decreasing and deficit spending is projected in the coming years. The administration and board have recently been discussing the potential closure of Lawrence Elementary School, which has resulted in a backlash from some residents of that area.
Lower Newport resident Kathleen Schneider said she voted against the levy because residents are over-taxed already. She noted the district just recently passed a renewal levy.
"It's just tax and tax and tax and tax," said Kathleen Schneider, 51. "Let's have a little bit of a break in between."
Newport resident Joani Reese, 52, said she didn't hesitate to vote for the new levy.
"I would never not vote for a tax levy in this community. This is my community," she said.
Reese said she liked that the levy applied only to those who were earning a paycheck.
"I felt that it was for the people that worked as opposed to senior citizens, and I think that was fair," she said.