by Brent Hovey

Reporter

Aurora -- How the Board of Education handles future decisions dealing with the schools will depend on whether voters pass a 6-mill combined levy Nov. 6.

On that same day, voters will choose two people to make those future decisions. Four hopefuls have filed for two open seats.

Ann Morrison, John Sloe, Rick Nelson and Maureen McKenzie all hope to be on board to make those difficult decisions.

Morrison is serving her eighth year on the Board and Sloe began serving in September after former member Mike Frigo resigned because he and his family moved to the Chicago area for job-related reasons.

All four of the candidates have been preparing for the election by talking to residents either at coffees or just when they run into them around town.

Western Reserve Television Cable 9 has been airing a dialogue with the candidates, and the League of Women Voters of Northern Portage County recently sponsored a forum at Harmon School.

All four candidates expressed confidence in themselves to do a good job. They also expressed confidence in the other candidates, and said each have a valued interest in seeing the schools make the right decisions.

The levy is the issue that dominates the candidates' minds heading into the election.

"Future issues all hinge on the levy," said McKenzie, a Four Seasons resident who has degree in medical technology. "If it passes, there will be a lot of changes for the good. It will bring excitement, but also chances for glitches.

"THE GROWTH and expansion in our schools will be a very positive thing. The levy will provide plenty of classrooms and additional teachers to keep class sizes small, plus the student-teacher ratio at a very nice percentage."

Nelson, a Lakes of Aurora resident and a physician at Robinson Memorial Hospital, also said passing the levy will be a good thing for all of Aurora.

"Passage means improved school infrastructure that will benefit the entire community and continued enhancement of the educational programs throughout all grades," he said. "That's what makes Aurora schools special."

Sloe, a Duneden resident and certified public accountant, called the levy "the single biggest issue."

"The reason is because we are at or near capacity in all our schools," he added. "We truly need to expand our facilities."

Morrison, a Geauga Lake area resident and a pre-kindergarten teacher, explained if the levy passes, it would take 16 months to add the additional needed space. In that time, it is still possible for the schools to add classroom trailers if they go over capacity.

"However, once the expansions are complete, the buildings will be good for the next 25 years and we can concentrate on academics," Morrison said.

"Right now, we are 17th in the state in academics. I don't see any reason why we can't improve on that and have every student pass their proficiency tests."

If the levy doesn't pass, it creates a whole new direction the schools must take and a whole new slew of problems.

"There would be huge changes," said Morrison. "If I had to guess now, we'd think about eliminating the ID swipe program and all day kindergarten.

"We might institute a 1-mile walk zone [instead of busing], but we won't make children cross the highways" she said. "We might have to charge to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities. No new textbooks, no new athletic uniforms."

Superintendent Russ Bennett has said if the levy doesn't pass, some $850,000 in cuts will have to be made by the start of next school year.

Nelson agreed with Morrison, saying all non-core extracurricular programs would be up for reduction or elimination.

"SALARIES and benefits are a large percentage of the operating budget, so reduction in staffing levels also would have to be considered," he said.

Nelson went on to explain he is not in favor of the 1-mile walk zone.

"It's to help reduce fuel and transportation costs, but it's ill-conceived as our schools are located on major routes," he said.

"To ask our students to cross these busy streets in the absence of crossing zones, traffic lights and crossing guards does not make much sense."

Sloe said he doesn't want to see any cuts, but the Board already has put together a contingency plan in case there needs to be eliminations.

"The biggest drawback if the levy isn't passed is we begin to stress the system," he said. "We'll have up to an additional 500 students in the next few years, with less teachers and more students to each classroom.

"Whenever you stress something, things break down at an execrated rate."

McKenzie added, "It's hard to project exactly where the cuts would be. Talking to Board members, I think they've gone through great lengths to look at the other side of the coin.

"The first cuts would have to come from areas that don't impact the core curriculum or affect a student's ability to learn.

"It makes sense to trim away at the edges before you cut into the middle," she added.

Who makes those decisions and the difficulty of those decisions will be decided Nov. 6.

E-mail: bhovey@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3115