Fresh off a victory at the polls with a bond issue in November, Milford schools are hoping that the support shown by the community will continue. The Milford school board recently voted to place an operating levy of 5.9 mills on the March ballot.
Interim Superintendent Robert Farrell said that the move was necessary. The district, he said, appears to be out of money.
“The district is in pretty bad financial straights, and has been that way for a while,” Farrell said. “One of the things we shared is some of the other districts – they have what’s called a carryover balance. With over a $50 million budget, we’re expecting to have $61,000 at the end of the year. It might be a little more, but can’t be any less. You have to have a positive carryover balance. Other districts are carrying 6-8 percent of their budget. We don’t have that, and we don’t have busing or other expenses. We have cut close to $2.9 million in personnel and transportation and still have a $61,000 carryover.”
At the end of every budget cycle, the Ohio Department of Education requires school districts to finish with money leftover in their accounts. According to Farrell, the minimum amount recommended is 6-8 percent, which would be between three and four million dollars for the Milford district. However, after years of cutting costs after failed operating levy attempts, the district is still far short of the required cash cushion, and will likely fall into a deficit next year without added income.
Recently, voters in the district approved an bond issue that is expected to fund projects to alleviate some overcrowding issues in the district. The bond issue, in effect, counterbalanced the expected reduction in funds that is part of the normal cycle of an existing bond issue that was passed some years ago.
The net effect was to maintain the current level of taxation. However, by law, that money can only be used for building projects, not operating funds. This levy attempt would increase taxation to the benefit of covering the operating expenses of the district. In past years, the district has reduced programs, busing and personnel to help cut costs.
However, Farrell said that there is no clear indication yet of what will happen if the levy either passes or fails.
"I don't want to talk about the cuts," said Farrell. "I don't want to get ahead of the board. We have a new board next year, and it's appropriate for that board to discuss what this levy supports and what it won't support - what will happen with it and what will happen without it. Our financial situation is pretty desperate."
One goal, he said, is to return full transportation services, but Farrell noted that even the added funds will not allow that to be completed without overhauling the district budget. A clearer picture will emerge, he said, when the new school board begins to meet early next year.
"We would hope that there are things that could come back," said Farrell. "The board will consider that in January. There are committees reporting to them, and will also have a work session. They will take recommendations from the community and district personnel. Then, they will make decisions on what to bring back. To run this district on 5.9 mills for a number of years, we'll still have to run it very fiscally tight. We would hope to get transportation back, but the budget would have to be adjusted."