Groveport Madison schools funds dwindle

Money is getting tight for the Groveport Madison Local School District and board members are considering a potential operating levy, more cuts, ways to be more efficient, and a possible income tax as options for raising revenue.

The numbers

According to the district’s five year financial forecast, at the end of fiscal year 2008 the district is expected to have a fund balance of $458,874. That figure drops dramatically to an estimated $34,118 by the end of fiscal year 2009. The district is projected to go into the red in the following three years, potentially being in the hole by $1.3 million in 2010, $3.8 million in 2011, and $7.6 million in 2012 if additional revenue is not obtained.

Treasurer Anthony Swartz reported that the last continuing operating levy the district passed was a 13 mill levy in 1991, which is now reduced to 6.65 mills. He said House Bill (HB) 920 dictates that the money generated by this 1991 levy can generate "X amount of money" and must maintain that level. To do so, HB 920 takes that the same group of properties from 1991 and reduces the millage for them so they generate that same "X amount" of funds.

"Any new properties added come in at the revised 6.65 millage," said Swartz.

District voters renewed a 5.4 mill, three year emergency levy in 2006, which generates $4.5 million annually.

Board member viewpoints

School board members were asked their thoughts on the district’s financial situation and the potential for placing a levy on the ballot.

Board President Dr. Naomi Sealey: "We haven’t come together as a board yet to discuss the financial forecast and cuts. We are going to run out of money and it is a concern. It looks bleak and we’ll be bleeding red in two years."

Sealey said she had no thoughts yet on a a potential operating levy other than that it is something the board must decide on.

"It’s still early. The board just organized. In the coming weeks we will decide what direction to take. We have to explore our options."

•Board Vice-President Nathan Slonaker: "We really need to take a look at our spending and where we can be more efficient before we do anything else and see if that changes our outlook. We can evaluate our best course of action after looking at being more efficient in our spending."

He noted transportation is one area that comes to mind for saving money while still maintaining safety.

"We need to do as much as we can on our side to provide quality education. We need to be more efficient without sacrificing quality."

Board member John Kershner: "We’re still working on getting in balance and I think (treasurer) Tony Swartz will be a big help. We’re looking at areas where we can get more savings and I think the picture will get clearer in the next 60 to 90 days after Tony can review our finances."

Kershner said transportation and facilities management are areas where efficiency can be improved and money saved.

"I’m unsure about a levy until we get a handle on staffing and our latest enrollment figures. The board hasn’t discussed a levy yet…If we present a levy that is fair, equitable and justifiable to the community it would get support. We need to take a moderate approach, make clear what is needed, and be honest and up front with the community."

Board member Steven Slyh: "I think we should consider a school district income tax."

Slyh said, according to figures provided by the district’s interim treasurer Steve Huzicko last fall, an income tax of .25 percent would generate $1.5 to $2 million annually and a one percent income tax would generate $8 million a year.

Slyh said senior citizens on fixed incomes could be exempted from the income tax. He added an income tax would also spread the tax burden around so that property owners would not be the only ones bearing the brunt of funding the schools.

"An income tax could serve as an operating levy."

He said the income tax could be either a permanent tax or a five year tax.

"I favor the five year income tax because it makes the board accountable every five years to the voters."

He said the district needs either the income tax or an operating levy on the ballot in 2008.

"If we wait until 2009, we’re in the red."

He said he plans to make a motion at the board’s Jan. 16 meeting to set a meeting later this month to discuss the situation.

Slyh added the district also needs to address the district’s aging school buildings and the possibility that some of the more than 1,000 students, who left the district for charter schools to avoid split sessions, could return to Groveport Madison.

"If they come back we’re facing issues of lack of space."

Board member Mary Tedrow: "We, as a board, haven’t discussed a levy yet, but I feel a levy in 2008 is needed. I don’t see where there are any more cuts to be made."

She said she was unsure of how the community would react to facing a levy on the ballot.

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