By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison Schools’ officials are seeking input and support from community leaders to help improve the district’s image and financial situation.
“We want an open, honest dialogue to solicit ideas so we can work together to promote the schools, offer opportunities for students and to grow the community in a positive way,” said Groveport Madison Superintendent Bruce Hoover at a recent Groveport Madison Board of Education meeting about community partnerships.
Groveport City Council members Shawn Cleary and Donna Drury attended the meeting. No Madison Township trustees attended the meeting.
Drury said residents have approached her “many times” with negative comments about the school district.
“There’s an attitude out there in the voting,” said Drury. “Some people won’t support a levy because of something that may have happened 40 years ago. The problem is getting people interested enough to listen to what’s happening now.”
Cleary said, “It’s all about image,” adding that, even though the district has made improvements in academics and in the school culture, a “rough image of the district as a place with a tough crowd and a survival of the fittest attitude still remains.”
“This hurts me,” said board member Nancy Gillespie. “I know the facts and things have improved.”
Hoover said “our academics are good” and the number of discipline problems and fights in the district are “half of what they were a year ago.”
Board President Mary Tedrow asked what city council thinks of the district.
“Come to a council meeting and ask,” replied Cleary.
Board member Charlotte Barker believes there is a lack of support for the schools from the city of Groveport.
“We lost a levy by 12 votes,” said Barker. “I have a dream where Groveport officials will one day take to the streets to support a levy.”
Cleary responded that city council has unanimously passed resolutions of support for the past two levy requests.
“That never happened before,” said Cleary.
“I don’t think the community has a feel for our dire financial situation,” said Hoover. “The community needs a clear understanding of our finances. We are not wastefully spending. Costs keep going up, but we’re not getting any new revenue.”
According to the district’s most recent five-year financial forecast prepared by Groveport Madison Treasurer Tony Swartz, the district will have a financial deficit of $4.2 million in fiscal year 2014; $2.1 million in 2015; $1 million in 2016; $766,683 in 2017; and $1.4 million in 2018.
“We’re definitely in the hole,” said Swartz, who noted expenditures shown in the forecast are based on the cuts made for 2013-14.“If we were to reinstate items that were cut, the expenses go right back up.”
Swartz said the district has had to use property tax advances to keep pace with operating costs, but added, “You don’t want to keep doing this.”
Swartz said an operating levy would be needed in May to pay debts, restore cuts and enable growth.
“A levy that’s as least as much as the $5.5 million levy that failed last May, maybe more,” said Swartz. “Remember the costs of things we cannot control, like utility bills, keep going up. If a levy isn’t passed, more staff cuts will be needed because 80 percent of the budget is people.”
Hoover said the district did not want to make the $4.6 million in cuts, but had to when the May levy failed by 12 votes. He said the district kept core academic programs intact – math, reading, science, social studies – as well as some extracurricular programs. But high school busing was cut in order to save co-curricular programs such as art, music and language.
“We would lose more students if we lost these programs,” said Hoover.
Hoover said, when students transfer out, the district loses revenue.
“How many more students could we lose before we have to start thinking about closing buildings?” said Hoover. “We can only operate so long on decreasing funds while rising costs still remain.”
He said the district would have to look at squeezing students into fewer buildings to save on operating costs if it keeps losing students.
“If the next levy fails that will result in more cuts. We could lose all athletics and the co-curricular programs and not restore busing,” said Hoover. “How does that attract businesses and families to the community?”
“If you want a successful district, people need to invest in the district,” said board member Bryan Shoemaker. “If we can pass a levy the district’s image can begin to heal.”
Hoover said the district will have to consider passing a bond issue for facilities sometime in the future, something the district has not done in more than 40 years.
“Our facilities’ costs are escalating,” said Hoover. “We have water main breaks and electric failures. We have old facilities and old equipment. We have an estimated $6.5 million in needed roof replacements and parking lot repairs, but we only have $2 million per year in our permanent improvement fund.”
Permanent improvement funds can only be used for structural items. Swartz said the district annually receives $1 million from the state and approximately $1 million in income tax revenue sharing with the city of Groveport for this fund.
“We have 10 school buildings that are not in good shape,” said Swartz. “The question is what can we afford to fix and what can be put off.”
The school board will send a liaison to future Groveport City Council and Madison Township trustee meetings to help establish an ongoing dialogue between the government entities.
“We need to change perceptions,” said Hoover. “We are who we believe we are. We also have to find out what we were and what we want to be. We can create a district that serves all the kids and find something we can all rally around so we can all feel good about Groveport, the community and the schools.”
Groveport Madison by the numbers
• $1,225 – annual average school property taxes per $100,000 home in the district, the second lowest in Franklin County.
• 8 percent – decrease in property values in the district according to the 2011 Franklin County reappraisal of property values.
• $2.5 million – amount of delinquent property taxes in the district, a delinquency rate of more than 10 percent.
• $10.8 million – amount lost from the district’s annual budget when students who live in the district but transfer to schools elsewhere, including those pursuing open enrollment, private schools, charter schools, special education, and the Stem program.
• $5,650 – approximate gross amount district receives per student annually from state (figure is lower after annual adjustments).
• $8,402 – average amount district spends annually per pupil.
• $57,000 – annual average teacher salary in the district, the lowest in Franklin County.
• $30,000 – annual average income of district households.
• $120,000 – average value of a home in the district.
• 20 percent of the district’s students are in special education.
• 30 – average number of students per classroom in the district, the highest in Franklin County.
• 327 full time teachers in the district.
• 60 – average number of administrators in Franklin County school districts.
• 27 – average number of administrators in district’s similar to Groveport Madison.
• 2 – number of administrators the state assumes there is per school building.
• 26 district administrators including: superintendent; human resources director; curriculum director; treasurer; student safety director; special education director; communications director; facilities director; 1 principal per building (10 schools in district), except for the high school which has 3 assistant principals to handle safety, academics, and facilities; an athletic director; and four coordinators for gifted students, Title 1 and grant writing. “We cannot make more administrative cuts and still guarantee safety, maintenance and support services,” said Superintendent Bruce Hoover.
• $0 – the district’s bond retirement millage, Groveport Madison is the only district in Franklin County with no bond issue millage.
Sources: Groveport Madison Local Schools, Ohio Department of Education, Franklin County Auditor, Ohio Department of Taxation.