Voters in the Frontier Local school district rejected a five-year, 9.19-mill emergency levy by more than 1,000 votes Tuesday.
The levy got yes votes from just 233 people, while 1,276 voted against it.
Among the latter group was Donald Strode, 87, of Newport.
"I can't afford it," he said. "They got to learn to live with their income, like I do."
The 9.19-mill property tax levy would have raised $550,000 a year that would have been largely dedicated to maintaining the district in its current form and avoiding further cuts in staffing and programs. Without the levy, the district is projected to be in deficit spending and go into the red by the end of the 2015-16 school year.
District officials attribute the negative numbers to decreases in enrollment and state and federal funding.
At a glance
Frontier Local Schools levy
Five years, 9.19 mills
Yes - 233
No - 1,276
Source: Washington County Board of Elections.
Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder could not be reached for comment late Tuesday evening, but he has said previously he expected to recommend going back before voters should the levy fail.
Board President Justin Hoff said Tuesday night that is likely, but he expects the millage amount to be smaller.
"I think we will have to show that we are making an effort somehow to cut costs on our own," he said via email. "We have said before that if the public wants everything to stay the way it has been, then we are going to need money. The vote tells me that they don't want things to stay as they are."
One change could be the closure of Lawrence Elementary School, the school with the smallest enrollment in the district, but also a lower cost to maintain than the other, newer buildings. The fate of the school figured into some residents' votes - but for different reasons.
"I always vote for (school levies), but they're trying to close Lawrence school down, and I don't think they're going to put any of the money toward it," said Carla Drake, 59, of Lawrence Township. "They want it done, so they're going to do it."
Grandview Township resident Ed English, 65, said he voted against the levy in part because the money would have helped keep the small school in Dart open. He called the school "a drain on the entire system."
"Far as I'm concerned, Lawrence school should be imploded," he said.
Kidder raised the prospect of closing Lawrence prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year, and it seemed likely to happen although the board never took a final vote on it. Residents rallied to the defense of the school, and it has remained open since, although kindergarten was removed for a year and multiple grades have been combined into single classes.
One money-saving proposal was to transition Lawrence to a district-sponsored charter school, which Drake said she would support.
New Matamoras resident Arnold Evans, 54, said he believes Lawrence should be closed, but that didn't stop him from voting for the levy.
"The kids are our future, so they need money," he said.