Reynoldsburg school board looking at levy for fall

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Reynoldsburg Schools Superintendent Stephen Dackin will soon present the board with a recommendation for a fall operating levy request, but hasn’t yet determined the amount voters will be asked to approve.

That will be up to the board and will depend on how long they want the levy to last and how soon they want to ask for more money, Dackin said after the May 20 board meeting.

"We probably needed an operating levy two and a half years ago," Dackin commented to the board.

The request will come on the heels of voter approval of a bond issue in March that will allow the district to build a second high school and a seventh elementary school, along with renovations to other sites.

The district has opened three other new buildings without asking for additional operating revenue since 1997, Dackin pointed out. But that can’t continue.

"The public knows when you open buildings, you have to have the funds to operate them," Dackin said.

The district’s costs are projected to increase 6 percent annually.

Along with the expense of new facilities, the district’s state funding, which accounts for 51  percent of its budget, has been flat for the last three years, Treasurer Mitch Biederman reported. That situation is not going to change any time soon.

This gloomy forecast is coupled with the news that the district’s real estate tax collections, accounting for 30 percent of its revenue, will be about $230,000 less this year than the previous year.

That’s the first time that has happened in 10 years, the treasurer said.

That means 80 percent of the district’s revenue is either flat or declining, Dackin explained.

To counter that situation, budget cuts have been made over the last two and a half years, and will continue for the next school year.

The district is trimming $2.2 million from the budget for the upcoming year. That brings the total cuts made in the last 30 months to $6.5 million, the superintendent said.

The latest round of cuts will be made through attrition, as they have been previously. In that time period, 40 positions have been eliminated by not filling vacancies.

That has meant larger class sizes, the superintendent acknowledged.

No program cuts are planned for next year, Dackin said. "Before you cut services and programs, you go to the voters."

Board President Cheryl Max emphasized that they have had their eye on the financial situation for a long time.

"I want to make sure people understand we didn’t wake up and say ‘We’re out of money,’" she said. "This is an ongoing process."

Determining future operating costs will also depend on the direction the district takes in configuring its new buildings.

Officials are close to concluding the effort to gather public input through Reynoldsburg Reach, a series of 27 meetings in 60 days to discuss options for the buildings.

Those options include two traditional high schools for grades 9-12; a school for grades 9-10 and one for 11-12; or schools of choice focusing on specific academic areas. A school of choice is also being considered for the elementary building.

The final Reynoldsburg Reach meeting will be held May 29 at 7 p.m. at the high school, 6699 E. Livingston Ave.

Dackin said he was "a little disappointed" in the turn-out at the previous meetings, and encouraged residents to participate.

Assistant Superintendent Dan Hoffman also urged participants to fill out the exit surveys after the meeting.

The district expects to have data from the meetings and a partial analysis by June 14.

Dackin said he would make a recommendation to the board by July.

High school principal leaving

In other business, the board accepted the resignation of high school Principal Diane Mankins, who is leaving to head Grove City High School.

Mankins, 38, is a Reynoldsburg graduate and has worked in the district as a teacher and administrator for 17 years, the last four as high school principal.

She said that she accepted her new position because she was looking for new challenges.

Max noted that if Mankins could get through her first year as principal, she could probably handle anything.

The board president was referring to the deaths of four students, including one who died in the building, Mankins said.

It was a tough time, but the staff came together to help the families get through the tragedies, she added.

Dackin called Mankins, who had also worked as a special education teacher and coordinator of the Trailblazers program, "a champion of students who don’t always have someone to champion them."

The school’s test scores are higher than they have ever been, as well, noted Dackin, himself a former principal at the school.

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