Jefferson Local looks to tighten belt

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Predicting the future of school financing may not involve a crystal ball, but given the present economy, five-year revenue and expense forecasting is still not an exact science, according to Jefferson Local School Treasurer Jill Smith.

The State of Ohio continues to ferret out cost-cutting measures to meet a growing deficit, property values are moving south, and student enrollment is down. With revenue streams narrowing and expenses widening, belt-tightening is the norm as districts investigate ways to cut costs and narrow the financial gap.

Smith presented a pair of scenarios to board members during a Dec. 8 meeting and reported on lower student numbers, loss of parity aid, and guarantees in transitional aid to accommodate the parity deficit.

“Our student count is down. Our parity aid went away, but it was made up through transitional aid. We haven’t lost anything this year (in transitional aid), but next year we could lose $226,000,” said the treasurer. “Anything is a possibility. The guarantee has affected us.”

According to a second picture proposed by Smith, the loss could be even greater—$422,785—if the estimated percent guarantee from the previous year is lower. In addition, the number of students in five grades dropped and special education numbers were down. High School Principal Dave Metz said seven students withdrew from the district within a few weeks span.

Superintendent William Mullett reported more students are choosing electronic classrooms, and Jefferson Local is not experiencing any growth. He said open enrollment has typically kept the district afloat, and school systems like Columbus Public are losing thousands of kids.

“This is something that cannot be ignored. There are a lot of uncertainties. These are scenarios of what could happen with the schools,” Smith said.

As a cost-saving measure, the district is investigating ways to increase its energy efficiency and commissioned research by Sabo/Limbach Energy Services to study the use of gas and electric utilities. Engineer Pam Spangler told board members that com-pany representatives walked through the school buildings a number of times, observed systems in operation, and reviewed plans.

“We identified several areas for cost-effective energy savings,” said Spangler. “What keeps coming out are the building controls.”

In working with existing controls, $84,000 in savings could be realized. By using new automatic logic controls, the savings jumps to $165,000. However, the difference in initial costs between the two suggestions is vast—$304,000 versus $647,000.

“By using existing controls, within 10 years, (there would be) $536,000 in savings,” continued Spangler. “If you went with auto logic, you would invest $647,000 and at the end of 10 years, you would have $1,003,000 in savings.”

Fellow engineer Mark Taylor said, “We don’t want to tell you this is the right way to go. It’s your decision. The downside is the cost. We can’t make a recommendation. We’d really prefer for you to make the decision. We do all the training on site with your system.”

Board member Bette Mendenhall asked the engineers why, given that the buildings are new, there is a need to replace systems that are only two to three years old.

“When the state started building schools (through the Ohio School Facilities Commission), energy was not a topic of priority,” stated Spangler. “The OSFC is now requiring all schools to follow a little different picture. The next step is for you to give us some direction.”

In other action, members of the high school girls volleyball and football teams were congratulated for their seasons. Metz said the volleyball team finished regular season play with a 14-0 record and were Mid-State League champions. The football team was also named Mid-State League champions for the third time.

“Our football team has been highly successful, especially over the last three years with a 34-5 record, and our seniors have the winningest history on record,” said Metz.

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