District is looking for feedback on options for raising revenue
Officials from the Batavia School District hosted a community forum Dec. 1 to inform residents about the district’s budget and receive feedback on an impending tax increase.
Superintendent Jill Grubb and Treasurer Michael Ashmore explained why an increase in funding from the local community will become urgent as financing from traditional sources shrinks.
When the Ohio legislature passes a new biennial budget next summer, school districts expect a 10 percent cut in funding. Ashmore estimated that this could mean an $800,000 loss in revenue in a district whose budget is $20 million per school year.
Ashmore said that state income tax revenues are shrinking because of the high unemployment rate. When it comes to county funding, there is more bad news. Ashmore said that property tax delinquencies grew to $450,000 in 2009 from $109,000 in 2007.
Because of the slow housing market, property valuation increases are down. Additionally, Ashmore pointed out, the district lost the tax money from the Ford plant and will lose more if Duke Energy’s tax appeal before the state tax commission is successful. Batavia Schools will potentially lose $150,000 per year from the loss of Duke taxes.
While funding sources are drying up, Batavia Schools need more money because their student population is growing.
“Something I found very interesting, being relatively new to the district when we did this presentation, is how much this district has grown over the years,” said Ashmore. He presented figures showing that while the average growth rate for county schools has been 1 percent over the past 13 years, Batavia enrollment is up 30.9 percent.
“This is good news – we’re growing – but it also has created challenges for us with facilities and with adding staff and things to educate these students,” Ashmore said.
He added because of the growth, the district is trying to cope with overcrowded buildings that need repair.
Ashmore listed changes that the administration is already implementing to reduce operating costs. The district contracts for mechanical work on buses for the Williamsburg Schools which allows Batavia to pay for an additional part-time mechanic and still save money. The district has reduced the contract days of secretaries, implemented full-day kindergarten for less than the cost of one teacher and stopped funding professional development and field trips from the general fund.
Additionally, expenses such as transportation for games are being billed to the athletic department.
The district is using discretionary money from the Education Jobs Funds to balance its budget this year. Ashmore said that the schools have been running deficits for three years and are now more than $1.5 million in debt. He hopes to break even this year. Even if this happens, the savings for the district are depleted.
The issue that Ashmore and Superintendent Grubb put to the public was how to raise money. They gave the options of cutting programs and staff and running an operating levy with or without a permanent improvement levy or bond levy to fix the school buildings.
Another option would be run an earned income levy, which would shift the burden of education costs to everyone who lives in the district rather than just the homeowners and businesses. Grubb said that a .5 percent income tax would yield the same as a 4.5 mill levy.
Members of the public who spoke at the meeting agreed that the district should limit any levy put on the ballot to operating costs rather than asking for money to fix the buildings as well.
The meeting ended with a discussion of how to get more parents and community members involved in making decisions about and passing a school levy. Several parents who have experience working on levy campaigns said that community apathy may be the biggest hurdle.