In a board report during the West Geauga Board of Education meeting Monday, Board Member Kathy Leavenworth informed that, based on preliminary information, the Newbury referendum petition did not acquire the requisite number of signatures to put an issue on the March ballot pertaining to the territory transfer between the West Geauga Local and Newbury Local school districts.

Mrs. Leavenworth said that she, Treasurer Karen Penler, Board President Ben Kotowski and Superintendent Richard Markwardt had attended a Geauga County Educational Service Center meeting at the Auburn Career Center earlier in the month. She said the meeting was to determine if the petitions put together by Newbury residents could force a referendum on the March ballot for the territory transfer, which would leave the vote to residents rather than the ESC governing board.

If approved, the territory transfer would be effective for the 2020-21 school year.

Mrs. Leavenworth said the residents needed to obtain about 1,350 signatures to pass the petition for the referendum.

“They needed to have 50 percent of the people who voted in the last general election plus one,” she said. “And the (Geauga County) Board of Elections has said, and we know from past experience, that you don’t just get 50 percent plus one. You need to get a significant number higher than that because a lot of the signatures will be thrown out because they’re not valid voters.”

Mr. Kotowski and Mrs. Leavenworth said Newbury acquired 1,074 signatures on 92 actual petitions, which needed to be turned in by Sept. 19.

“They (Newbury) got the petitions in, but they did not have their requisite numbers,” Mrs. Leavenworth said. “So they will not be putting an issue on the ballot in March, which is good because that would have really sent us and Newbury into a different place. So we can move forward.”

Dr. Markwardt said the county Board of Elections called a special meeting slated for Sept. 26 to address the referendum that he and Mrs. Penler will attend.

“At that point we expect official word,” Dr. Markwardt said of the meeting. “Everything that you’ve stated is accurate based on what we’ve heard thus far,” he said to Mrs. Leavenworth, “but it’s all pending on official ruling by the board of elections.” He added that the board of elections has not given its official ruling yet, but he expects the West Geauga school board will get official word on the outcome at the special meeting.

Mr. Kotowski pointed out that from what he has heard of the petitions put out that they were largely for the democratic process and not solely from people against the transfer.

“We (the board) were told that the petitions were primarily being surveyed as giving people a democratic choice, giving the community a choice,” he said. “The positive part of that is a lot of people signing are not against the territory transfer; they just wanted their voices to be heard.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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