By Sue Kiesewetter
LOCKLAND - The Lockland Schools will dissolve in 10 months unless voters approve a money issue before year's end.
Voters here and in Arlington Heights will be asked to approve a 15-mill continuing levy on Aug. 5 that would bring $2.5 million to school coffers each year.
The financially strapped district of 650 students - Hamilton County's smallest - is facing a deficit by December 2004, despite cutting its staff by 26 positions after a 24.1-mill levy failed in February.
The move cut payroll by $1.4 million annually, said Superintendent Phil Fox.
"We won't open our doors in August '04 because we won't have enough money if levies fail," Fox said. "This community has had a school in operation since 1851. It would be a shame for the villages. They would lose a big part of their identity."
Declining tax revenue from General Electric Aircraft Engines is one of the main reasons for the district's financial crisis.
Talks have already begun with the Ohio Department of Education and neighboring school districts about what would happen to the students of Lockland and Arlington Heights if the district were dissolved.
Wyoming and Reading are not interested in absorbing the Lockland district, and Princeton is taking a "wait and see" outlook, Fox said.
"Only Cincinnati (Public Schools) is willing to take us if the state says that's the best merger," Fox said.
Should the district be dissolved, taxes would still go up because residents would be taxed at the same rate of whatever district accepts Lockland's students, Fox said.
If that were Cincinnati, taxes for most Lockland families would increase at about the same rate as they would if the Lockland levy were approved. Taxes would jump $345 annually on a $75,000 house, Fox said.
"You're going to pay someone. Why not save property values and 153 years of tradition and save the district?" said Village Councilman Mark Mason, a lifelong Lockland resident who is coordinating the levy campaign with Debbie Peak. "Our school is our foundation of both communities. The schools are the second largest employer in Lockland."
Losing a district where everyone knows her children isn't worth a slightly lower tax bill, said Peak.
"I don't feel people think the schools will really close,'' Peak said. "My children love it here. This is a good, viable school district. It's like a family here. I would hate to see it fall apart for lack of understanding on the residents' part."
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