By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison Schools officials are pondering what cuts might have to be made if the upcoming operating levy were to fail.
On Nov. 5, voters will decide on Groveport Madison’s request to renew its existing, 5-year, 6.68 mill operating levy with zero tax increase.
The current operating levy will expire on Dec. 31, 2019. According to Superintendent Garilee Ogden, if the levy is not renewed the district would lose $2.8 million in tax revenue in 2020 and $5.6 million in 2021.
“We have to find ways to cover this loss of revenue if the levy fails,” said Ogden.
Ogden said the decision to go with a request to renew the existing levy arose after receiving feedback from the public following the failure of a combined levy and bond issue last May.
“We listened to our residents and the public indicated they did not want a continuing levy or combined issues (such as combining a levy with a bond issue),” said Ogden. “The taxpayers want the financial accountability a five year levy offers.”
If the levy is rejected by the voters, the Groveport Madison Board of Education will meet soon after the election to consider what possible cuts could be made and also decide on placing an operating levy on the March ballot. If the levy passes, no cuts would be necessary.
On Aug. 14, Ogden presented the board with a list of possible cuts for consideration if the levy fails. The board would have to decide if and when to institute any proposed cuts, either at mid-year of the present school year or at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The proposed $6.2 million in cuts under board consideration if the levy fails include programs and services not required by state law or regulations, which include:
•Academic programs, $4.1 million: art, music, band, physical education for grades K-8, gifted program, and tightening up special education to federal guidelines.
•Clubs, athletics, and miscellaneous services, $2.1 million: Security staff for grades 6-12, K-5 SIC staff, various clubs, athletics, and busing. (Busing would be cut to the state minimum, which means no high school busing and K-8 busing only for students living two miles or more from school. No busing cuts could be made mid-school year, but could be made at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year if the board decides to do so.)
“These are programs and services that are not required by the state and they would be at risk of being cut if the levy fails,” said Ogden.
Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner said this list of potential cuts is “a place to start the discussion.”
“We consider everything on this list to be important and essential in providing kids the education they deserve,” said Warner. “We do not want this list of possible cuts to be seen as a threat. We want people to see we are being honest and that we cannot continue to give the same level of service if the levy fails. The district would not be the same if the levy fails. We need to maintain what we have and to do so we need to keep the current level of funding we are receiving.”
Board President Bryan Shoemaker emphasized that, if the levy does fail in November, the district still has time to go back to the voters for revenue.
“If it doesn’t pass,” said Shoemaker, “we can go back on the ballot in March before making any cuts. We’re not anywhere close to discussing the elimination of busing.”
However, board member Nancy Gillespie noted, “Busing (if it were cut) is a big ticket item that does not affect academic programs.”
“I’d rather cut some staffing (if cuts were needed),” replied Shoemaker.
Board member Libby Gray said, “It’s reality. If you don’t have money coming in you have to consider making cuts. We don’t want to go backwards, the district has to go forward. We still have roofs and buildings that need repairs. We need to hold on to any money we have.”
Ogden said district officials must be “clear and communicative” to residents about Groveport Madison’s needs and the positive things the schools offer to the students and community to ensure passage of the operating levy.
“We want to protect what we value,” said Ogden.