It took seven tries, but Wa-
terloo voters have done what they needed to do to stave off state control of their school district: They approved a new operating levy for the first time in 17 years.
The margin of Tuesday's special election was hardly a comfortable one, a 25-vote win with a turnout of less than one-third of those eligible to cast their ballots. But even a single-vote margin would have been enough for levy backers, who made the case -- successfully this time -- that the levy was a do-or-die proposition for the school district.
The 5.9-mill, five-year emergency operating levy will raise about $940,000 per year for the district. It will keep Waterloo out of state control and will enable the schools to gain a sense of financial security. It won't be a magic bullet, however.
Over the past two years, the district has cut $2 million from its operating budget. The cost-savings has not been without a price in terms of educational quality: Class sizes have increased, electives have been dropped and the teaching staff has been reduced to near-minimum state levels. The district's academic report card rating has dropped two levels.
Many of the challenges confronting Waterloo remain: The district has limited industrial and commercial development, which puts the burden for funding the schools on the homeowners of Atwater and Randolph, many of whom face their own challenges in an uncertain economy. Cuts made in the past won't automatically be restored, which means that even with the additional funding from the levy, diminished educational opportunities will remain.
The additional funding will, however, enable Waterloo to meet its immediate needs and maintain local authority over school operations. And, if Gov. John Kasich's educational reform package becomes a reality, the district also could benefit from his plan to equalize school funding.
Superintendent Andrew Hill, understandably jubilant over Tuesday's win, pledged that the schools would "make this money last as long as we can." He noted that the additional funding approved in 1995 was expected to last for three to five years but ending up helping the district remain in operation for 17. Here's hoping that the funding approved this week will provide Waterloo with a solid start back on the road to financial health.