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Supporters hope for a final push for Ashland schools levy

On the eve of today's election, Ashland was falling shy of the required 50 percent turnout necessary to pass a youth activities levy to help bolster schools.

Ashland turnout hovered at 44.7 percent Monday afternoon, according to the Jackson County Elections Office.

Supporters of the Youth Activities and Academics Levy were planning one final push Monday night.

Marylee Oddo, manager for the Say Yes campaign, said she was "cautiously optimistic" Ashland would meet the 50 percent turnout requirement for money measures in a non-general election, noting "the bulk of ballots come in closer to the end."

Turnout was 45 percent countywide for the election, which includes Measure 49, intended to clarify land-use regulations and exemptions, and Measure 50, which would amend the state Constitution to increase a tobacco tax to fund children's health insurance.

Ashland's proposed three-year local options levy, aimed at giving district budget architects more flexibility in funding programs, would replace the district's popular voter-approved youth activities levy that brought in $2.2 million for the 2005-2006 school year and is set to expire May 2008.

The proposed levy could give the district an additional $1 million to be divvied up by the district's budget committee.

A levy to support activities at Ashland schools was first passed in 1994, but this year it has undergone some adjustments to be in line with state law, advocates noted.

Rather than just going before city voters, the levy will be voted on by all school district residents, and because it is broadened, the rate will drop to $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed value from $1.38 in past levies.

The youth activities levy has paid for such extracurricular activities as music instruction, foreign language classes and physical education in the elementary schools, and has allowed Ashland schools to forgo implementing a pay-to-play policy that other districts have to charge students to participate in activities.

Proceeds from the local option will funnel into the district's general fund and may be tapped to pay for core academic programs in addition to enrichment programs such as traditional after-school sports and student clubs. Supporters also say not only will the levy give the district more budget flexibility, but allowing the school activities levy to lapse will avert a legal challenge that faced a similar youth activities levy in Eugene.

In that case, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled last year that the levy was unconstitutional since it put the Eugene School District over the $5 per $1,000 assessed value threshold it could legally tax property owners under the limitations imposed in 1990 by Measure 5.

Chris Rizo is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings.

You can reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.