CW schools place 8.9 mill levy on ballot

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The Canal Winchester Board of Education decided to take the middle of the road in placing one of three levy options on the March ballot.

During its Dec. 17 meeting, following a recommendation by Superintendent Kimberley Miller-Smith, the board  approved an 8.9 mill continuing operating levy for the March 4 ballot. The levy would generate $3.7 million annually in additional funds for the cash-strapped district and cost the owner of a $100,000 home and additional $272.56 per year.

The property value used to calculate taxes is the appraised value determined by the county auditor’s office and is the amount listed on the tax statement for each individually-owned property.

"From my perspective, I’ve seen all the information and heard the public input, and had time to reflect on this," said board member Chuck Miller. "You are (superintendent and treasurer) going to be the ones who live with this on a day-to-day basis."

The ax has already started to fall and plans are in place to cut positions, consolidate bus routes, restrict purchases, eliminate trips and professional development opportunities, and increase fees in the district. Miller-Smith said $1 million was previously cut from the 2007-08 budget, with $639,000 more since she was hired, but more than $500,000 still needs to be slashed in order to keep the district solvent and out of fiscal caution.

On Dec. 4, the district received a letter from the Ohio Department of Education noting Canal Winchester’s five-year forecast indicated a negative fund balance exceeding projected revenue starting in fiscal year 2009. As required by the Ohio Revised Code, the department said the district must submit a proposal avoiding the deficit to a School Finance Area Office by Feb. 8.

The proposal must include Canal Winchester’s general strategy for avoiding the deficit and list all viable options the board considers to increase revenue and/or reduce expenditures.  Assistant Department of Education Director Roger Hardin warned the district that, under current fiscal caution guidelines, the district could be placed in fiscal caution if it fails to submit an acceptable proposal.

If approved by voters, revenue collection from the 8.9 mill levy would not begin until January 2009. Permanent and temporary cuts need to be made now in order to meet the state mandate to balance the budget. While the levy would help stem the tide of red ink and keep the district in the black, Treasurer Joyce Boyer said it would take a double-digit levy of approximately 15 mills to fully restore the district.

A 4.9 mill operating levy was defeated at the polls last year and a 7.9 mill levy was turned down by voters in November.

In addressing the present situation, a number of steps have been taken. Consolidation of bus stops starts Feb. 1 and students in grades K-8 will have to walk up to a half mile to a bus stop. High school students will have to travel to one of nine bus pick up points, which will be unsupervised. The sites have not been determined, but will most likely be in large parking lots, such as for businesses or churches.

If the levy fails, Miller-Smith said the district will not have a choice but to eliminate high school busing in 2008-09. Even if the levy passes in March, the consolidated bus stop plan will remain in place.

The list of cuts and changes includes doubling pay-to-participate fees to $140, slashing supply and equipment accounts by 20 percent, cutting out field trips as of Jan. 1, eliminating professional development training for teachers except for opportunities funded by grants, and reducing projected certified and classified positions and textbook purchases.

"The district continues to grow. As students continue to come into the district and we don’t hire projections (additional teaching staff), the student-teacher ratio will continue to grow," Miller-Smith told board members, "and we’re opening another school.

"This (8.9 mills) would keep us from making further instructional cuts and buys us additional time in being proactive in cost management instead of being reactive. It would give the management team, teachers, and I time in looking at making additional cost containment that would see us well into the next three to four years."

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