Pandemic impacts Madison-Plains finances

(Posted May 20, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Between last fall and this spring, Madison-Plains Local Schools went from projecting a positive cash balance for each of the next several years to projecting deficit spending starting next year.

The change is due to the negative impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on the economy, said Todd Mustain, treasurer, at the school board’s May 19 meeting.

To start, the state cut the district’s state foundation funding by $342,600 for the remainder of this fiscal year which ends on June 30. This represents a 7 percent decrease. On average, school districts across the state received a 3 percent decrease. The cut to Madison-Plains was higher because the state deems the district to be “property rich” and therefore capable of asking for more tax money from property owners, Mustain explained.

While the area does have a lot of farmland, the school district asks for a relatively low amount of tax millage, Mustain said.

“It’s somewhat unfair in my mind, but we have to play the cards we are dealt,” he said about the state funding cuts.

Even with the $342,600 decrease, the district will end the fiscal year with a small surplus of $33,700. Mustain credits the district’s tight rein on expenses for making the surplus possible.

Looking to next year, state leaders are telling school districts to budget for additional state funding cuts of potentially 10 percent. Madison-Plains receives $5 million from the state each year, so a 10 percent cut would equate to $500,000. Mustain is concerned that the district could see a heavier cut if 10 percent is the predicted average. He said school districts also have been instructed to budget for a decrease in income tax collection. For Madison-Plains, that could amount to a loss of another $100,000 in revenue.

District leaders are already looking at additional ways to curb expenses. A reading specialist and a secretary are retiring at the end of this school year. They will not be replaced. Mustain noted that the district value these positions but that leaving positions vacant is preferable to laying people off.

“These are tough choices to make,” he said.

In good news, Mustain said the district’s health benefits costs are going up 7.5 percent next fiscal year instead of the double digits he had predicted. This past year, health benefits costs went up 12 percent.

Anthoula Xenikis, school board president, thanked Mustain and Superintendent Chad Eisler for their work on the district’s finances. She said she wants to continue to look at how to make up for the money the district lost in state funding and could stand to lose going into the next fiscal year.

Mustain said he and Eisler will continue to meet with the district’s advisory committees which include school and community representatives.

“We want the community to rest assured that we are trying to be wise stewards (of district finances),” Eisler said.

School leaders are looking ahead to next school year not only from a financial perspective but also from an operational one.

“We’ve been told to plan for three possible scenarios,” Eisler said.

One is that the 2020-21 school year will start the same way the 2019-20 school year ended–with distance learning. Another is a blended model that splits the student body into groups attending on different days of the week to better facilitate social distancing. The third is something closer to “normal,” with all students at school at the same time with safety measures in place.

“No matter what it is, there will be some changes,” Eisler said.

Xenikis praised district administrators for acting quickly to put distance learning into place after Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order closed schools in mid-March. She requested that administrators collect feedback from teachers, students and community members about what was done well and what could be improved in case schools return to distance learning this fall.

Xenikis asked that the feedback be presented at the board’s June meeting so that a plan can be in place by the board’s July meeting.

In other business, the board:

  • accepted the resignation of Jake LeGros, assistant principal for grades K-6, effective June 5. LeGros served the district for one year;
  • awarded a three-year administrative contract to Karen Grigsby as curriculum director, effective Aug. 1;
  • awarded a three-year administrative contract to Brad Miller as K-6 principal effective Aug. 1;
  • hired two substitute bus drivers, one of which will also serve as a substitute custodian.

The school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for 7 p.m. June 16. Go to mplsd.org for details.

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