Licking Heights Schools may cut costs; deficit looms

Licking Heights School District is facing decisions about how to cut costs as a budget deficit looms in the coming years. 

According to the current five-year forecast, the district will have a deficit of a little more than a million dollars by the end of the 2011 fiscal year. 

For the time being, things are OK, treasurer Jennifer Vanover said.

"The numbers that are out there now for this year are pretty on-target," she said. 

The board recently reviewed the five-year forecast. 

"I think the general consensus that we had, myself and the board, was that we need to reevaluate the assumptions that are built in and determine what it is that the board wants to do going forward," Vanover said. "We are going to go through and analyze what can be changed and where there’s some savings so that we can get ourselves in the black through 2011." 

She said at that point the district would need to find another source to replace the current levy. 

One of the main factors in the deficit, according to Vanover, is that the district will receive much less revenue from property taxes as a result of the economic downturn and the poor housing market. While the district may get an increase from sources like new construction or public utilities, she said those are not big money producers. 

Many school districts will be hurting as some kinds of property taxes are being phased out completely as a result of legislation. Vanover said this will affect Licking Heights. 

Although the district is not as reliant on those specific taxes as some districts are, she said, it will have an impact.

Moving forward, the district needs to find ways to cut spending. Vanover said the Department of Education will help them evaluate current staffing levels.

"If we had some areas that we feel can be reduced we may make some reductions that way," Vanover said. "I don’t know that there’s any intent to reduce any programming at this time … they’re trying to make cuts where it has the least amount of impact on the students." 

She also said the district could feasibly reduce supply budgeting. The board has until May to approve the five-year forecast again, she said, but there will be a lot of discussion until then about how to deal with the deficit. 

She said the upcoming staffing analysis through the Ohio Department of Education would be the best place to start. 

"That’s probably the next big step toward determining what changes we’re going to make, and then once we see what impact that has then we’ll move forward from there," she said.

There are several options with upcoming levies.  If the board chooses to try to replace the property tax levy with an income tax levy, Vanover said, it might have to be on the ballot sooner because it takes longer to reach full collection on an income tax. She said the earliest levy would be in 2010.

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