The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

December 23, 2012

Ledgemont Local Schools plans to ask voters to pass levy in May

THOMPSON TOWNSHIP — Lake effect snow made for slow going on the rural roads of Thompson and Montville townships on Friday afternoon. A Ledgemont Local Schools employee could not shovel fast enough to keep the sidewalks clear for the last day of school this year.

Inside the 1986 building, Treasurer Kelly Moore and Superintendent Julie Ramos face a similar Catch 22 — the district’s revenues can’t keep up with the blizzard of expenses. As a result, Ledgemont owes the state more than $2.7 million and has been in fiscal emergency since October 2010. The most recent ramification of the district’s financial troubles came earlier this month, when the board of education voted to reduce busing to state minimum standards.

When classes resume in January, all 196 high school students will have to find their own transportation to the Thompson Road school. Additionally, 47 elementary and 17 junior-high students who previously had bus transportation will lose their busing to the Burrows Road building.

Ledgemont sends 23 students to the A-Tech school in Jefferson, and voters in the Ledgemont District have a voice in any tax issues that fund A-Tech. Ramos says the shuttle buses that run between Thompson and Jefferson won’t be affected by the busing changes; however, the A-Tech students from the district will have to find their own way to the high school, from which the bus departs.

Further, starting with spring activities, all extracurriculars must be revenue-neutral. That means, for example, if five students sign up for track and the program cost is $5,000, the cost to participate will be $1,000 per student.

“It’s worse than pay to play, because the participants pay the entire cost,” said State Representative-elect John Patterson, who recently spent a day talking with Ramos and Moore about Ledgemont’s fiscal problems. “That could be very hefty.”

Ramos predicts that the latest cuts, which were recommended to the board by the state fiscal committee, will push more families to open enroll in neighboring districts in Lake, Ashtabula and Geauga counties. Moore says the district already has a net loss of $400,000 annually to open enrollment.

“If these kids start to go to Chardon, Newbury or Cardinal, the (state) money is going to follow these kids and further decimate the district,” Patterson said.

The district, which has 643 students and two buildings, has been in and out of fiscal emergency status for 27 years.

“Historically speaking, the district has always been in and out of financial difficulties,” says Ramos. “A report from 1923 talks about merging. This is nothing new.”

What is new, however, is the gravity of the situation following defeat of a 3.4-mill levy in November. There is very left to be cut in the district, whose debt burden to the state is around half of its annual budget of $6 million. While the district is making its payments to the state on time, those payments are really just a shuffling of money. About the same time the district made a payment of $1 million to the state, it borrowed another $1.11 million.

Ramos and Moore say the district needs to raise an additional $1.5 million annually in order to pay off the state debt and get itself on sound financial footing. The board plans to ask voters for the money in May, and although the exact millage of the five-year issue has not been certified, it is estimated to be around 15 mills, a 75 percent increase in school taxes.

That is in addition to the income tax that the district receives on the earned income of residents of Thompson and Montville townships. Moore says one of the reasons why the district is in debt to the state is because voters did not renew a .75 income tax issue when it came up in 2010. It was approved the following year, but the district lost two years of collections, or about $1 million annually.

“With a budget of only $6 million, that $1 million is huge,” Moore says.

 Geography also plays a role in the district’s financial woes. Being rural, the townships have very little in way of industry, putting virtually all of the funding burden on citizens, who, like many other Ohioans, have kept a lid on their spending when it comes time to support schools. Ramos says the district’s small size also hurts because they have to send the special education students to the program run by the county’s educational service center, which bills the district for those services.

The district also must deal with the challenges facing all Ohio school districts: reduced state funding, rising health insurance premiums, falling property values and a sluggish economy. And, because the district’s income tax is on earned income only, retired residents don’t pay it, which has resulted in receipts lower than originally anticipated.

The district needs a serious infusion of cash.

“We’re beyond the spaghetti dinner fundraiser,” Ramos says.

Even her 3/4-time position reflects the precarious state of finances at Ledgemont. The other quarter of her time goes to the ESC.

She says that arrangement is challenging from a public relations perspective; parents expect the superintendent to attend the school functions and athletic contests, but her obligation to the ESC makes that difficult.

“I’m not as visible (as a full-time superintendent), and it is hard to adjust to that,” she says.

Even if Ramos is at times invisible, Ledgemont’s financial challenges don’t disappear from her mind. She and the board have looked at a variety of creative scenarios, including consolidating the entire district into one building, where elementary students would attend in the morning and high school students in the afternoon and evening. But that arrangement would destroy the district’s athletics program and therefore hit a dead end.

“Athletics is a very big thing in this district,” Moore says.

“(The district) truly is the heart of the community, and athletics is a huge thing,” Ramos says.

While residents of the district have pride in their schools and don’t want the state to force a merger with another district, a majority have yet to put their money behind that pride. The last issue went down by about 100 votes. Ramos says it will take a huge outreach effort to convince the voters to approve the $1.5-million emergency issue in May.

“We’ve cut our spending to the point we are at the minimum (in most areas),” Moore says. “A lot of families want to support the district, but financially, they can’t swing it.”

Patterson said he is taking a special interest in the Ledgemont District, which is part of the redrawn 99th, because it is a harbinger of what will happen in other districts where voters refuse to approve new operating money. Ramos says the district’s financial difficulties ought to send two messages to Ashtabula County — voters need to support their schools, and administration and the school board need to have a strategic plan. The latter is something the board and administrative team is developing; the former will be decided by the voters come May 7, 2013.

Meanwhile, Ramos is open to suggestions, and Patterson has pledged to help however he can as a rookie legislator. That includes the simple act of having faith.

“I told them not to give up hope,” Patterson said. “I saw the fire in their eyes, and we have to have faith the size of a mustard seed, even in the direst of circumstances.”

Text Only
Local News
  • james wyman.jpg BEAT OF HIS OWN DRUM Lakeside graduate is right at home as timpanist with Baltimore Symphony Symphony

    It was a Tuesday morning in Baltimore not unlike many days here in Ashtabula County this past winter. The weather was the story of the day. Talk of wind chill, snow advisories and reports of delays and cancellations filled the topic of conversation in this East Coast city.
    James Wyman, however was still able to get to work though. Well, kind of, that is.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • db monday Sunrise Service.jpg Local churches celebrate at sunrise

    People of all ages gathered at Oakdale Cemetery at the break of dawn Sunday to celebrate at Easter sunrise service.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • monday APL pic.jpg Donate-to-win will aid shelter

    The Ashtabula County Animal Protective League reports that it started 2013 nearly $60,000 in debt, but finished the year “in the black by nearly $10,000” and reduced expenses by roughly $5,000.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Madison man dies in motorcycle crash

    The Ohio State Highway Patrol Chardon Post is investigating a fatal accident between a car and a motorcycle that collided Saturday morning.
    Lee E. Mullins, 57, of Madison was traveling southbound on State Route 528, on a 2000 Suzuki motorcycle, approaching the intersection of St. Rt. 86, when a 2008 Ford Taurus driven by 36-year-old Kimberly J. Baney of Wampum, Pa. failed to yield at the stop sign entering the intersection.

    April 21, 2014

  • Spring is a time of renewal

    Spring is a time of renewal. A time for the ground to warm and the bulbs to bloom. Trees clothe themselves with a new coat of leaves.

    April 21, 2014

  • wd sunday race 1 .jpg Mad Hatters tradition continues with Metroparks

    Mexican sombreros, large cardboard cars and multi-colored hats were just a few of the unique headgear possibilities used by the more than 200 participants in the Grand River Canoe and Kayak Race on Saturday morning.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • wd sunday lakegg 12 .jpg Lake Shore Park Easter egg hunt draws hundreds

    Eight thousand eggs littered a portion of the parking lot at Lake Shore Park on Saturday afternoon as hundreds of children lined up to take their run at a full container of candy.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • wd sunday eggstrava 4 .jpg ADDA brings Easter fun to Ashtabula area children

    Children took advantage of the opportunity to hang out with the Easter bunny and have their faces painted on Saturday afternoon at Lance Cpl. Kevin M. Cornelius Park.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_7651.jpg School property could be given to N. Kingsville

    When North Kingsville Elementary School becomes a memory this summer, the property could be reborn as a village park, officials said.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • wd saturday drug raid 2 .jpg Good Friday raid nets drugs, dogs and money in Ashtabula

    It was not a “Good Friday” for two West 38th Street residents.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

Canoe Race and Ashtabula Easter Events
Good Friday Cross Walks and Easter Egg Hunts
Spring Comes Alive
Ashtabula Spring Cleaning
The Taping of the Teacher: A sticky Sitation
Saturday Fun in Ashtabula County March 22, 2014
American Red Cross Ashtabula County Heroes Breakfast
Rotary Club Dodge Ball Tournament
18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge at Geneva State Park
End of year weather extremes
Christmas 2013
Harpersfield Barn Fire
Route 11 Rescue Plymouth Township
Ashtabula Fire
House Ads
AP Video
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday