ENGLEWOOD — Northmont Superintendent Dr. Sarah Zatik made a presentation Tuesday to Englewood City Council about the school district’s upcoming 5.9 mill, 5-year operating levy that will be on the March 2016 ballot.
District Treasurer Ann Bernardo, School Board President Linda Blum, Assistant Superintendent Tony Thomas and other school officials were also present.
Zatik stressed that the funding generated by the levy is critically needed to meet the district’s day-to-day operations and to prevent immediate, significant cuts to educational programs and student services. She also pointed out that the new high school and recently constructed Kleptz Early Learning Center have nothing to do with the levy.
“This, as you can imagine, is not our most favorite thing to do,” Zatik said. “We would rather brag about our students and talk about the great things we do. Fund raising and begging people to support us is not on the top of our list. But, it is a needed item and is something that we have to do every now and then.”
Zatik pointed out that the district has not asked for new money, other than the bond issue for the two new buildings, in six years. The bond issue was specifically for the construction of the new school facilities and cannot be used for operational expenses.
In reality, Northmont should have placed the levy on the recent November ballot but Zatik stated the district wanted to wait until the new school buildings were open so that the public could see how beautiful those facilities are and to have the opportunity to explain that the operating levy would have been needed even if those facilities were never built.
“Most districts have to go back to their voters every three to five years and here we are at six years, so this is not anything out of the ordinary,” she said.
Other factors contributing to the need for the levy is cuts at the state level. For years Northmont received about two percent of its funding from the state’s biannual budget. Northmont expected to at least continue to receive that two percent and were optimistic about potentially receiving a little more after the passage of House Bill 5, but two days before the budget bill was approved Governor Kasich slashed the funding to zero.
“The main reason for that is the new funding formula the state has for schools takes into account what a district’s median household income is and ours was determined to be $56,000 per household, which was deemed high,” Zatik said. “Therefor, the state feels that the community can support Northmont City Schools so they gave us no new dollars. That was very unexpected.”
She said that cut was the second hit the district suffered. Zatik said the first issue that affected the district was property revaluations which caused the district to lose $1.3 million based on the last two property revaluations.
Between that and the cuts at the state level Northmont was proactive and cut half a million dollars from its budget this year in anticipation of having to place an operating levy on the ballot in March.
“We figured if we cut half a million this year and another half next year it would total $1 million and we were just blown away when we saw what the state did because cutting our budget by a million dollars just isn’t enough,” Zatik noted.
The Northmont Board of Education voted to place the 5.9 mill levy on the ballot, a number that over the last 20 years has worked. Zatik said the district actually needs more funding than what the 5.9 mill levy would generate, but despite that need the board decided to approve a levy based on what they felt would pass.
“Even with the levy passing we will probably have to cut close to a million dollars from our budget. That is how desperate the situation is because we are not getting any help from the state,” Zatik said.
Brandon Knecht, the district’s director of business services also discussed some of the funding issues Northmont must address.
“Just as we were surprised to see the governor’s decision at the last minute and we were shocked to see the funding projections on the spreadsheet, one of my duties is EMIS – the Educational Management Information System,” Knecht said.
The EMIS involves reporting to the state on the district’s enrollment, test scores, and other student information. Northmont’s enrollment was down 167 students this year on a first day count, which equates to about a $400,000 loss to the district in addition to all of the other losses in funding. A second student count was performed the last week of October to reconcile Northmont’s foundation payment to the state and it appears that the district gained about 50 students, but that still equates to a loss of a significant amount of students and funding.
“We went back to try and figure out why we experienced a loss in students, and one of the reasons was moving the kindergarten required age back to August and that resulted in a loss of between 40 to 50 students that would have been enrolled in previous years,” Knecht said. “The second item was preschool scheduling. We were flexible last year and went on a Monday, Wednesday or Tuesday, Thursday schedule. This year we required attendance Monday through Thursday, so we think maybe that lack of flexibility might have affected some preschool students coming into the district early.”
The third factor was the implementation of a centralized registration system this year with one location online to try to save on paperwork, money and effort from staff. That system enabled the district to take a closer look at residency checks. Northmont had 40 cases investigated to verify a student’s residency and as a result 22 students were required to withdraw because of falsified residency, but that also has a negative impact on funding. Each student lost results in a loss of $5,900 in funding.
Northmont also loses approximately $500,000 annually which the district is required to pay to charter schools each year.
“We don’t have a problem with charter schools as long as they are performing well and they are in an area where a public school is not, but when a public school is doing excellent I’m not sure why that money has to be taken from us, because it’s not just the state money. It’s the state money and the local tax dollars that are shifted from our district to fund those charter schools, many of which are not performing,” Zatik stated. “That’s just another issue – that half a million dollars we lose every year.”
The district must also address many state mandated requirements that are costly.
“We are doing the best that we can to be as efficient as we can, belonging to consortiums, applying for energy grants, safety grants – everything we can do to save any kind of dollar we can,” Zatik said. “It’s just getting more difficult to keep up with the funding when you have a flat revenue source and you aren’t getting any help even though we keep cutting.”
Zatik told city council that the Northmont School District really needs city council to help inform the community about the importance of the levy. In the meantime Northmont will be doing its part by holding coffee klatches or discussions with residents in their homes as well as speaking at Rotary, Chamber and other civic group functions.
A committee of roughly 60 residents is working with the school district on the levy campaign, but Zatik asked city council to endorse the levy.
“An endorsement would mean a lot, because as you know a community is only as good as its schools and we have to keep both strong so that we keep our residents here and attract other residents to our community,” Zatik added.
According to Northmont Treasurer Ann Bernardo, the levy would generate about $3.6 million depending on how the tax collections come in. Total losses in anticipated state funding and the last two tax reappraisals represent $4.8 million. Since 2010 Northmont City Schools have made more than $5.5 million in cuts to reduce the budget, including teachers and administrators taking salary freezes and increasing their share of a health care costs.
Even with the passage of this levy Northmont will continue to look for ways to increase its cost efficiencies to stretch its existing operating dollars as long as possible. The board has not discussed what programs and services would eventually be cut.
City council will draft legislation to endorse the levy, which council will vote on at an upcoming meeting.