By Lauren Eller and McKenna Trimble
“When I talk about other districts, when they’ve cut, they still had a little meat on the bone, if you will. Here we’ve cut into the bone marrow,” Steve Larcomb, superintendent of East Knox schools, said recently the consequences of a failed tax levy in the East Knox school district.
The district has suffered from financial deficit over the last several years and has proposed a levy numerous times to increase taxes. But each time, it has been denied, culminating in the failure of the levy once again this November.
“They went out and asked for more money from the community and have … been turned down now nine consecutive times,” Larcomb said.
“I’m fascinated to see what the commission is going to come in and say, because we’ve already basically done all of the work for them in terms of cutting programming,” he said. He explained that an oversight commission will be appointed by the state of Ohio to preside over the elected board. This commission will then control the finances of the elected board.
Derick Busenburg, assistant vice principal of East Knox High School, is equally intrigued by the nature of the oversight commission’s actions. “We’re not exactly sure what this is going to look like, but what we do know is that we will transition from ‘fiscal caution’ to ‘fiscal emergency.’”
Busenburg explained that the Ohio State Department has three different designations to denote different states of financial difficulty within a school district: fiscal watch, fiscal caution, and fiscal emergency. The designation of “fiscal emergency” warrants the formation of an oversight committee that, according to Busenburg, eliminates “a significant amount of local control over things that are important to your school district.”
“My concern is that any further cuts would probably, in my opinion, lead to educational malpractice,” Larcomb said. “We only offer one foreign language now. My goodness, we don’t even have calculus.” He added that the high school does not offer any Advanced Placement courses and that they “don’t have art, music and PE at the elementary [school]. We don’t have librarians … in either building.” He described the district as being “about as rock-bottom as you can be.”
Busenburg reiterated Larcomb’s description of the school’s status, saying, “We are far below state averages on teachers, administrators, support staff, the amount of buildings we maintain and clean with the number of custodians we have. We’re short in everything.”
The presence of the oversight commission does not completely solve the district’s financial problems. According to Busenburg, once the oversight commission identifies and eliminates any unnecessary expenditures, it grants the school the ability to apply for loans from the state. “That cycle just continues,” he said. “So if you can’t pass [the levy] and then you have to borrow money and ask for more, how are you going to pass that?”
But while Larcomb acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, he added that the statistics have been steadily improving. When he first arrived as superintendent, voters were 63 to 27 percent against the levy; this past November, they were 53 to 47 percent against its passing.
“We had over 1,600 voters who were willing … to sacrifice and increase their taxes, because they understand, they get it,” Larcomb said. He also recognized that it will be important going forward not to alienate the voters already in favor of the levy.
Phoebe Roe ’16, a Collegian staff writer, is the founder of PEKK, a partnership between Kenyon and East Knox schools that began after the failure of the levy last November. A number of Kenyon students volunteer with students at the schools. “A cool thing about the program is that it’s very free-form,” Roe said, describing the various involvement opportunities. “And [East Knox is] so receptive to Kenyon students.”
“They appreciate the help that we’re giving them,” she said.
Ali Pratt ’17, a volunteer with PEKK, claims the failure of the levy has given her greater impetus to help at the school. “I feel like they need people and so I’d like to help,” she said. “But even if the levy had passed, I would still go because they would have needed some time to get everything back up and running.”