Lakota supporters exhale after levy passes in official election count

Results still await certification

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- They’ve waited eight years to implement plans supported by taxpayer dollars, but Lakota School District officials will postpone projects and improvements at least seven days more, as they await official election certification from Butler County. 

Butler County elections officials say the $13.8 million school tax levy, which unofficially passed by a razor thin margin on Nov. 5, has passed again after an official count Tuesday and does not qualify for a recount. 

The final tally of votes for the levy is 13,644 (50.33%). There were 13,357 (49.47%) votes against the levy, which  means the levy passed by just 287 votes.

The Lakota school board met Monday for the first time since the unofficial election results. It is the first levy that the district has passed since 2005, after three previous unsuccessful attempts. But the school board won't take any formal action until the board of elections certifies the results, which is scheduled to happen Monday.

“We are cognizant of the fact that this was a very very close election, and therefore, we still have a lot of work to do in engaging and talking with our community,” said school board president Joan Powell, as she thanked the audience for their support Monday.

Lakota is the eighth-largest school district in the state and has 17,065 students enrolled this year. The levy proposal combined 2.0 mills, or $5 million, for permanent improvements and 3.5 mills, or $8.5 million, for operations. That means district residents will pay $192 more per $100,00 value of their home.

While the district was hesitant to formally implement its proposed projects and improvements for at least the next week, preparations were already underway Monday.                  

“I’ve already seen some e-mails, assuming certification, about some of the athletic and extra curricular activities and having a family cap,” said Powell.

With the passage of the levy, the district has promised to re-institute a financial cap for families who have children who participate in multiple sports. The maximum a family with one child would pay is $800, and for a family with four children, the cap would be set at $2,000.

The school board will have to officially approve that cap before it can take affect, and Powell said she expects that to happen at the next board meeting on Dec. 9.  

Jenni Logan, school district treasurer, reminded board members Monday that they would soon need to revisit their five-year financial forecast as additional taxpayer dollars start to flood in.  She said the budget would need to reflect immediate changes that will occur this school year, including the district's plan to offer bussing to an additional 2,220 students and its plan to triple the number school resource officers throughout the district. 

Randy Oppenheimer, spokesperson for the Lakota School District, said the transportation department has begun developing its new bussing plan, and the human resources department will soon start looking to hire more than a dozen teachers to instruct additional classes next year.

Students in fourth through six grades will be offered one additional day of art, music or physical education and students in ninth grade will have another period added to their class schedule. 

Those changes and other proposed improvements to district buildings, technology and safety will be addressed over time. 

"Now we move into an item by item thing," said Oppenheimer. "There's no one single meeting where [the board] will discuss all the items."

Oppenheimer said permanent improvements will likely be one of the first items to go before the board. 

School board representatives, who anticipate the levy's certification, are preparing to ease the tension between all sides. 

"I think you heard in our tone. Officially we are happy to move ahead but at the same time, we know that we have a community that's still fairly divided. We want to prove to them that this is precisely what we're going to do, precisely what we said we would do," said Powell. 

The next Lakota school board meeting is Dec. 9. 

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