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CEO, board thank voters, promise to stretch money from levy

CEO Eric Gordon says CMSD will stretch revenue from Issue 68 so the District can take care of needs during the pandemic and beyond.

Acknowledging the “precious value” of the Issue 68 tax levy approved the previous day, the CEO said at school board meeting early this month: “We will not squander it. We will be very, very careful.”

(See a thank-you card CMSD educators made for voters.)

The CEO and board used a Nov. 14 retreat to focus on the now – expenditures related to the pandemic – and the next – expenses that will follow.

The District had to switch abruptly to remote learning for all students after the state closed schools in March to contain the spread of COVID-19. That required finding millions of dollars to buy devices for students and ensure that families have access to the internet.

Gordon said CMSD has to plan in the short term for implementing a hybrid model of online and in-person learning when conditions permit.

But he also called for looking past the pandemic and the possibility of a recovery that could, for example, require extra help for children who were just entering kindergarten when the pandemic hit or ninth graders who have yet to set foot in their high schools.

Gordon said school districts typically conserve funds before going for a new levy and then invest when new revenue becomes available. He said CMSD would refrain from unilaterally lifting its hiring freeze or restoring positions.

School board members added their own expressions of gratitude to voters for approving Issue 68, which passed with 61 percent of the ballots cast. They also praised the recommendation to proceed with caution.

Board member Lisa Thomas said the pandemic’s impact underscored for everyone the importance of having reserves. “We really don’t know what the future holds,” she said.

Issue 68 included renewal of 15 mills, first passed in 2012 and renewed four years later, plus a five-mill increase. The levy is expected to generate $87 million a year, including $66.5 million that was already being collected under the existing levy,

With the expiration of the existing levy on the horizon, the Ohio Department of Education placed CMSD in "fiscal caution" and ordered the board to adopt a recovery plan in case the tax failed. A plan the board approved in October would have led to significant layoffs, school closings and other reductions.

The board is working with ODE to remove the designation of fiscal caution.