Local superintendents recently got the chance to explain their financial circumstances following COVID-19-related budget cuts to local legislators.
The conversation occurred Friday during a legislative roundtable hosted by the Williams County Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO).
In addition to State Sen. Rob McColley and State Rep. Jim Hoops, North Central Local Schools Superintendent William Hanak, Bryan City Schools Superintendent Diana Savage and Edgerton Local Schools Superintendent Kermit Riehle were all in on the Zoom meeting, which covered a range of topics.
Both Hanak and Savage expressed similar concerns, as both of their districts were pursuing levies before COVID-19 base funding cuts hit. Those cuts cost Bryan $318,797 and North Central $122,046 for the soon-to-end fiscal year alone. Edgerton lost $110,571.
The statewide school cuts were part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s plan to trim $775 million from the state budget.
Ohio’s $2.7 billion surplus fund remains untouched at the current juncture.
In North Central’s case, funds were already formally being pursued through a five-year, 0.5% tax on earned income. The tax was voted down in the April 28 primary. Hanak said the levy would have generated close to $340,000 annually, and was needed for the district to simply keep financial pace.
At Bryan, school officials recently said the district will be deficit spending for the foreseeable future. The district is already incurring a $1.9 million loss this year alone, an amount which it predicts will significantly increase each passing year, according to its five-year forecast.
As Hanak noted, now, even with a levy, North Central will still be using a variety of revenue sources to supplant losses. Hanak said the district is going to have to use wraparound dollars and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to supplant lost revenue and still won’t be getting ahead. He said this is not what those dollars were intended for.
“We’re struggling for our financial survival,” said Hanak. “Now all it’s (the levy) going to do is plug a hole. It seems like an impossible task. I know every school district is going to be on the ballot every other year if this continues.”
Savage too made her thoughts known.
“We were considering a new levy just to keep up before the 20 percent cuts,” said Savage. “Failure and/or lack of new funding will result in staff reductions and student program reductions.”
Similarly, Hanak indicated all options would have to be examined following the most recent North Central Local Schools Board of Education meeting.
Complicating matters further, on Monday, Bryan Treasurer Kevin Schafer indicated the general consensus among local school treasurers is to brace for an additional 10% cut in light of the statewide effort to trim the total budget for the upcoming fiscal year by 20%.
After speaking on a variety of topics, McColley and Hoops only indicated they would continue to try to lighten the testing load as one avenue of saving districts money.
McColley said schools could not be immune to cuts because of the portion of the state budget they represent.
Though not addressing school leaders at the time, McColley’s explanation on another topic during the roundtable provided insight.
“The unfortunate side effect of a lot of this is we’re looking at our April income tax receipts and they were down 50%. Our sales tax receipts are down 25%,” McColley said. “That’s over $800 million in expected revenue not coming to Ohio for just one month.”
Due to Ohio’s constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget, he said all parties will be feeling the pinch moving forward, citing the state’s goal to cut its overall budget by 20%.
“Unfortunately, no agency and no department is going to be immune to that,” he said.
Addressing those who are concerned about the state’s priorities in making cuts as its relates to the yet unmoved rainy day fund, McColley said his personal belief is that the surplus will likely be utilized in the near future.
Addressing the topic directly, McColley said the problem schools are facing is further evidence of his belief that legislators should have been involved in initial discussions about closing off various aspects of the state, due to wide-ranging ramifications not considered by the health department.
Still, at least some small measure of help is on the way for Ohio schools in the short term, not from the state, but from the federal level, in the form of $489 million in CARES Act funds set aside for Ohio K-12 schools. Bryan will receive $260,000.
The Dayton Daily News reported that how those stimulus dollars compare with an individual district’s losses will vary wildly from district to district, due to funding formula construction based on number of impoverished students served.