Call it lucky No. 7. The Waterloo School District passed a new 5.9-mill operating levy Tuesday on the seventh try, and by only 25 votes. The win allows the district to avoid an operating deficit for the near future.
The final tally was 968 to 943, according to complete but unofficial results from the Portage County Board of Elections. Turnout was 32.4 percent, according to the elections board.
"This is just phenomenal, that is great news. What a relief," said Waterloo Board of Education president Brian Pusateri shortly after results were posted shortly before 9 p.m. The 5.9-mill, five-year emergency operating levy will raise $939,557 per year and keep the district out of state scrutiny. Last month, district officials held a public forum to give voters an idea of what could happen if the state had to become involved.
"It's awfully nice the community came through and passed the levy for us. It's very exciting," he said.
Pusateri, who has been on the board for 24 years, said Superintendent Andrew Hill has been working to cut the district budget and pass a levy since he started three years ago.
"It will be really nice to give him a chance to focus on something other than the budget," Pusateri said.
Passage of the levy doesn't mean the district will be restoring any cuts, Pusateri said.
"Our plan is to maintain the program we have at this time. There's nothing extra in the levy to put anything back in," he said.
Hill was pleased with the levy win.
"How about that? What a good night," he said.
Hill said he thought people had become more knowledgeable and more engaged in discussing the district's future.
Hill credited the work of the board of education, the levy committee and the community action committee that worked to educate voters in the district, which covers Atwater and Randolph townships in southern Portage.
"It's a great thing for our district. It gets us back on some firmer financial ground," for the five-year forecast period, he said of the win.
The last time Waterloo passed a new operating levy was 1995. Hill said that levy was supposed to last three to five years and lasted 18.
"We will make this money last as long as we can," Hill said. "We will do our best to continue to be good stewards for the taxpayers' dollar and to provide a good education to our kids. We have a responsibility to our kids," he said.
Waterloo voters rejected levies for seven consecutive times, the latest was a 5.0-mill additional levy in November that would have generated about $796,200 annually for five years starting in 2012. District officials had to raise the amount of the levy for this election because the district lost a year of collections.
In the past two years the district cut $2 million out of its budget made the levy as small and for as short a period as possible, Pusateri said.
If the levy had not passed Tuesday, Waterloo officials were ready to try again.
In January, the board voted to put a levy on the May 7 primary ballot to try to avoid an operating deficit. Now that ballot issue won't be necessary.
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