West Jeff Schools cuts $1 million from budget

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(Posted April 13, 2021)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

Years of deficit spending are catching up with Jefferson Local Schools as the district takes steps to balance the budget between total expenditures and total revenue.

According to Treasurer Mark Ingles, several factors have caused the district’s expenses to outpace revenues in recent years, including flat state funding, flat enrollment, and an increase in costs.

In 2018, the district was $440,742 in deficit spending. In 2019, that number was $866,918. Last year, deficit spending pushed past the $1 million mark to $1.045 million.

“The current state funding bill froze our funding at FY (fiscal year) 2019 levels and, with the COVID-19 pandemic, our funding was cut at the end of FY 2020 by over $200,000,” Ingles reported. “The cuts enacted at the end of FY 2020 have continued over into FY 2021.”

As a result of flat enrollment figures, the district does not receive Enrollment Growth supplemental funding from the state.

“While our funding has remained flat, our expenses have not,” Ingles continued. “Examples include health insurance increasing by an average of 6 percent over the last five years and supplies and materials increasing with inflation.”

With expenditures outpacing revenue, Jefferson Local’s general fund balance eroded to the point where there is a potential to end the 2024 fiscal year with a negative balance.

To correct the budget situation, on April 12 school board members approved a RIF (reduction in force) resolution that shaves $1.02 million off the budget with minimal impact on staff and students.

It is expected that attrition and increases in income tax and federal funding will pull the district through tough economic times.

“There will not be a single employee that will lose their job,” Superintendent William Mullett pointed out. “No cuts to sports. No cuts to extracurriculars. We were very lucky.

“What we have here is necessary. Growth will be costly, and we have to prepare for it, as well.”

As part of the FY 2022 reductions, the district will not fill vacancies in the high school English department, Norwood Elementary’s bridge class, and technology integration. Two summer custodial positions will go unfilled, as well.

When middle school Principal Debbie Omen retires at the end of the school year, the position will be combined with the high school principal position for a savings of more than $120,000.

Mullett said the district has slowly worked toward a combined high school/middle school administration, starting with combining the athletic director and dean of students positions into one and now the principal positions.

The district increased employee insurance pickup costs, reduced Chromebook purchases, and worked out an agreement with the village of West Jefferson to increase Community Reinvestment Area income sharing by $661,230. A $105,016 savings adjustment also benefitted the bottom line.

By implementing the reduction plan, Ingles reported, the district will start down a path to healthier financial footing with the five-year forecast showing a “drastically reduced deficit” and “the potential of operational surpluses.”

“The administration and board of education will continue to monitor the financial health of the district, recommending changes to its operations as necessary to provide quality services in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.

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