Columbus schools report sluggish financial forecast

Rising expenditures and sluggish cash flow between now and fiscal year 2013, will contribute to the Columbus City School district’s budget deficit, according to a projected five-year forecast released Oct. 21.

If Issue 75 fails at the polls Nov. 4, the district will be more than $368 million in the red by fiscal year 2013.

If voters pass Issue 75, which involves a $164 million 1.13-mill bond issue and a 7.85-mill permanent operating levy, the district will gain $77 million per year in operating expenses via real estate assessments.

According to the forecast, the district’s salaries and benefits expenditures will increase by 4.3 percent in fiscal year 2009, and continue to increase by 4.8 percent each year.

Expenditures, including salaries, benefits, purchased services and supplies and materials, are expected to increase by about $120 million over the next five years, to more than $809 million in fiscal year 2013, up from more than $649 million this fiscal year.

The district is expected to have a cash balance of more than $13 million in its general fund at the end of fiscal year 2009, according to the forecast. At the end of fiscal year 2010, the district will be more than $32 million in the red.

Enrollment in the district has steadily declined since the 2003-04 fiscal year, when 61,927 students attended the district. The next year, 59,754 students enrolled, and in 2005-06 fiscal year, 57,827 were enrolled. Enrollment then dropped to 53,674 in the 2006-07 fiscal year, and last fiscal year 2007-08, enrollment dropped to 52,894 students.

The forecast predicts the district losing about 1,500 students per year through the next five years. As a result, the district would cut teaching staff by 60 positions annually over the next five years, which would save the district more than $4.2 million per year.

Board members approved the five-year forecast at a meeting Oct. 21, and discussed the item briefly. One component of the forecast Treasurer Michael McCammon pointed out is the eventual elimination of the tangible personal property tax in accordance with Ohio House Bill 66. The district will no longer receive local tax revenue from properties such as public utility property of local and inter-exchange telephone companies, public utility railroad properties and business tangible properties after fiscal year 2011.

Despite the outcome of Issue 75, the board will make reductions, according to district spokesperson Jeffrey Warner. The board will make  $76 million in cuts between this fiscal year and fiscal year 2012. The cuts, according to Warner, would include closing six buildings and reducing staff accordingly. The board will also look at reductions in other areas in the district including the transportation and food services department in order to maximize efficiency.

Board member W. Carlton Weddington asked McCammon what the board could do differently in order to not have such a grim five-year forecast.

"Look at the expenditures," McCammon said. "Control expenditures."

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