At its July 30th meeting, the Westlake Board of Education approved placing a 5.4-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot. In May, a 5.9-mill levy failed by just 44 votes. After the narrow defeat the district opted not to seek an August ballot, but made about $1 million in cuts and sought community feedback about how best to proceed.
The district already made tough decisions. The district cut $5 million over the past three years – or 10 percent of its budget. This year, cuts included eliminating 19 positions and further reducing transportation services – no one living within 1 mile of their home school will receive transportation services in the coming school year.
The Westlake Schools have consistently been recognized as one of the top districts in Ohio while also receiving a number of accolades for saving money through shared services, innovative practices, consortium purchasing and partnerships. Of the nine Ohio school buildings recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools in 2013, two are part of the Westlake City Schools.
The district is taking measures to control costs, including changes to employee insurance and a move to a health care purchasing consortium that saved more than $1 million annually. Last year, a 5 percent pay reduction was instituted for all new administrators. Earlier this year, teachers agreed to a 0 percent pay scale increase and a 2.5 percent decrease in the second year of the new contract, saving more than $5 million. Recently, classified staff agreed to a two-year wage freeze. All employees’ insurance contributions rose by 50 percent for the first time.
After community input, the November levy request was reduced to 5.4 mills and would be the first operating levy in seven years. The levy will allow current programming to remain.
“Our schools reflect our community’s values as defined through our Continuous Improvement Plan,” said Superintendent Dr. Daniel J. Keenan Jr. “Great schools make great communities. We understand the importance of providing the schools our community expects while being fiscally responsible. Even with this levy, Westlake will remain in the bottom 25 percent of school taxes in Cuyahoga County and will ensure great schools for a great community.”
If the levy fails in November, Dr. Keenan indicated he will recommend another $2.2 million in cuts, which may include eliminating 30-plus teaching positions and seven to 10 non-teaching positions; imposing additional transportation cuts; eliminating access to school buildings after hours; either significantly increasing tuition for all-day kindergarten or eliminating all-day kindergarten; reducing athletics, music and arts offerings or imposing significant pay-to-participate costs; cutting AP offerings; and delaying or eliminating International Baccalaureate programs.
“This levy is critical for the future of Westlake Schools,” said Westlake Board of Education President Thomas Mays. “We listened to the community and we believe this is our best option to keep Westlake excellent”