Southington: Levy needed

SOUTHINGTON – For the second time in less than a year, Southington Local Schools officials are hoping taxpayers will approve a 4.9-mill operational levy. However, the request appearing on the May 6 primary ballot differs from the failed November version in that it is not a continuous levy.

Voters in the November general election turned down the bid for a continuous levy by a tally of 54.3 percent against to 45.7 percent in favor.

“This is a four-year levy and it will have to be renewed after that,” school board President Bob Baugher said. “It’s for the same amount of money, but that’s where the difference is.”

The levy would generate $314,000 a year for emergency needs and day-to-day operations. According to Baugher, Southington faces a unique situation with a tax base reliant almost exclusively on homeowners.

“We only have a few businesses to support the school system,” he said.

Partly because of these demographics, Southington has the second-lowest per-pupil expenditures in Trumbull County, Baugher said.

“Our teachers also get paid in the bottom one-fourth,” he said. “So, we’re asking a lot from them and they’re doing a great job. Our focus is on that relationship between the teachers and the kids.”

The district’s new kindergarten-through-12th-grade complex was finished in 2011. However, residents were told before the November vote that the district was operating with a $300,000 deficit.

“Looking at the finances, everyone is struggling, and we know that,” Baugher said. “We have a brand new, state-of-the-art complex, and we’ve looked at every possible way to stretch the budget.”

Those possibilities include sharing services with other local districts, which may include sharing of a superintendent. Last month, the board decided not to renew Superintendent John McMahan’s contract.

“We’re not hiring a new superintendent until we’ve exhausted all efforts to share one,” Baugher said.

Recent talks with Windham and Lordstown have resulted in the three school systems applying for a joint grant from the state’s Straight-A Fund. Baugher said part of the application included the measure of sharing a superintendent between them.

“Governor (John) Kasich has put this money out there for applicants that are thinking outside the box and doing things to financially relieve the tax burden on the community. “We feel sharing services falls under that and we’re committed to the idea,” he said.

Additionally, the school board is hoping the community will see these efforts to reduce administrative costs as a step in the right direction.

“We went door-to-door and talked to people about what it would take to get this levy passed,” Baugher said. “The message we received was that if people saw we were doing everything possible to cut costs, the community would be willing to come forward and share the burden.

“And we feel like we’re doing everything we possibly can. That’s why I’m confident (the levy) will pass this time,” he said.

The district expects to learn whether their grant application was successful some time this week.

“Even if we don’t get it, we’re still going to look to share services with any district that is willing,” Baugher said.