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Ohio Voters Approve Record Number of School Tax Levies

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Voters in 256 Ohio school districts approved a total of 130 school tax levies last week, the largest number of levies to be decided in a spring primary election in the state in 20 years.

The number of levies approved also set a record for a primary election, according to Robert L. Moore, an assistant superintendent in the state education department.

"We were very pleased to see that happen," Mr. Moore said. "It was a good day at the polls, even though 126 of the issues failed."

The record number of spring levies was prompted in part by Gov. George Voinovich's proposal not to increase state funding for education next year. Some school districts also were trying again to pass levies that were defeated during the November 1990 elections.

Toledo was the largest district to put a levy on the ballot. The measure passed by eight votes, 21,063 to 21,055, but 66 absentee and other ballots remained to be counted this week.

"We knew it would be close," said Suzanne Yeager, a spokesman for the district. "We didn't realize it would be this close."

The outcome of the levy will determine what programs the school district will have to eliminate to balance its budget. After city voters rejected an increase last November, the district announced that it would need to cut $12 million over 18 months to balance its budget.

The list of cuts proposed by the school board angered the Toledo Federation of Teachers and prolonged negotiations on an extention of the union's contract. (See Education Week, March 6, 1991.)

The contract dispute was settled after a state arbitrator issued a report that in many cases recommended preserving the jointly managed school district-union programs that the union had sought to keep.

But if the uncounted votes doom the Toledo levy, the district still must face the possibility of eliminating its entire athletic program next year, as well as significantly scaling back transportation services to students.

The large number of levies was prompted by a state law that requires Ohio's 612 school districts to seek voter approval for tax increases. The legislation makes it impossible for districts to cover increased operating costs caused by inflation without having special elections.

Voters' resistance to higher taxes, coupled with the Governor's no-growth budget recommendations, has put Ohio districts in a severe bind.

Fifty Ohio districts that cannot balance their budgets currently are receiving loans from the state.

In 1989, the state legislature passed a law allowing districts to tax income as well as property. Seventeen of the 34 income-tax questions on the May 7 ballot were approved, according to state officials.

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