CLAYTON — Representatives of Northmont City Schools, including Superintendent Dr. Sarah Zatik, Board President Linda Blum, Assistant Superintendent Tony Thomas, and Business Manager Brandon Knecht addressed Clayton council Thursday to discuss information about the upcoming 5.9 mil operating levy that will be on March 2016 ballot.
The levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $17 dollars per month in new taxes, according to school officials.
Part of the need for the levy came as a result of Governor John Kasich slashing a 2 percent increase in state funding amounting to $3.5 million the district had assumed it would be receiving. That cut came just before the state budget was approved.
Northmont cut half a million dollars from its budget this year and plans to cut another half a million next year.
“We haven’t been on the ballot in six years,” Zatik said. “We’ve been dealing with our bond issue and building projects and I know voters are going to be confused about this. It is going to be quite a challenge for us to explain that those are two separate piles of money so to speak.”
Bond issue money can only be used for building construction. It cannot be used for operating expenses. General fund money is the only money that can be used to operate a school district.
“Even though we are under budget and we have done a fabulous with our bond issue, we cannot use that money to operate the district,” Zatik said. “To go six years without new money is pretty incredible because the way most districts are funded they have to ask voters for more money every four or five years because costs keep increasing. Utilities increase, gas for buses increases and we have no revenue. All we can do is cut.”
In 2010 Northmont cut $5.5 million from its budget. All employees took a wage freeze and took on increases in the employee share for health care.
“We did everything we could to be fiscally responsible to decrease our budget as much as we could,” Zatik noted. “I am very fearful that with this March levy, even if we pass it, that we will probably have to cut an additional million dollars from our budget. If we don’t pass it, we will have to make major cuts. Since we cut $5.5 million mostly in personnel, because that’s our cost, to cut another $4 million or somewhere around there is just going to be devastating because we don’t have that in our budget.”
If those cuts do take place Zatik said it would cause a tremendous increase in class sizes along with program cuts. The district has yet to sit down to work out all the details of those cuts, but in the next couple of months board leaders will have to prepare a list of cuts if the March levy issue does not pass.
“We are hopeful that the community will understand that because the way schools are funded that we have no choice. There is no other way to get revenue other than to go to the voters,” Zatik said.
District Treasurer Ann Bernardo could not attend the meeting due to a workshop in Columbus.
“If our treasurer was here tonight she would tell you that she was devastated when she saw the state budget because we have always received a couple of percent increase to help with that cost of living increase,” Zatik said. “The state has come up with this new formula for a budget and in the formula they basically look to see if a community has capacity. In other words, what is the average household income in our community which is $56,000. The state determined that $56,000 means that our households have the capacity to support our levy. That is why the state gave us no increase in funding.”
Zatik pointed out that capacity doesn’t take into account if people are willing to pay additional taxes.
Brandon Knecht, the district’s director of business services also discussed some of the funding issues Northmont must address.
One of Knecht’s duties is EMIS – the Educational Management Information System.
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.
In addition, the district must pay $1.3 million every year to charter schools and to fund open enrollment to other school districts. That accounts for between 100 to 130 open enrollment students attending other school districts, and taking into account community schools, that equates to about 200 students.
Northmont also suffered a loss of $1.3 million in the last two property value reappraisals.
“When you add the reappraisals to the $3.5 million that we lost in the little bit of increase we had counted on getting, that is $4.8 million in funding losses,” Zatik noted. “I feel a little silly thinking I was being proactive in cutting half a million dollars at the end of last year only to find out that I should have cut millions. Hopefully our voters will understand the need for this levy.”
Zatik asked city council to endorse the levy, noting that as important as the endorsement would mean, talking to neighbors, friends and family would help dispel the incredible amount of misinformation being generated on Social Media. The district has committee of about 60 volunteers working to promote the levy.
“We would just like council and all of our voters to keep in mind that this levy will bring in about $3.6 million a year while we are losing $4.8 million a year in addition to the half million that goes out to charter schools,” Blum added. “We are trying to be as responsible and mindful of the community as we can. We’ve asked for 5.9 mils, which will bring in about $3.6 million, so we are going to have to make cuts or shore up our budget in some way but we will try to do it in such a way that it will have the least impact on the classroom environment.”