Voters in three county school districts will be voting on additional levies, which almost always represent a tax increase.
Districts say that if the levies do not pass, significant cuts in programs and services would likely be on the horizon.
All Ohio school districts are required to create five-year financial forecasts twice a year, Aurora schools Treasurer Bill Volosin said.
Since Ohio law prohibits school districts from operating in the red, districts must repeatedly ask voters to approve levies. If the voters don’t come through, districts must cut spending where they can, he said.
Some 80% of each district’s budget is staff, so “that would definitely be one place to look” for budget cuts, Volosin said. All other elements, including transportation, utilities and the like, are about 3% to 5% each, and some, like utilities and cleaning supplies, simply cannot be cut, he said.
Mogadore schools Treasurer Sandra Isabella explained that districts facing insolvency fall onto a continuum, from fiscal caution to fiscal watch to fiscal emergency. Districts fall into fiscal watch and emergency only after the state auditor’s office finds red ink in the district’s five-year plan.
According to the state auditor’s office, districts in fiscal caution must provide the state with a written proposal to correct fiscal deficiencies, and state officials may visit those districts to provide technical assistance.
The auditor’s office puts districts in fiscal watch when they meet financial conditions that threaten insolvency. Districts in fiscal watch must submit a financial plan to the state to eliminate the financial crisis and have it approved within 30 days.
Fiscal caution and fiscal watch designations both let district officials and school board members drive the plan and its implementation, so local control is maintained, the auditor’s office notes.
Should district officials be unwilling to make certain spending cuts, state officials eventually take over a district’s finances, Volosin said. Electives, sports and AP classes all can suffer until district voters approve additional finances. Transportation can be reduced to state minimums, class sizes may increase and after-school activities could be canceled, he said, adding that these are only some of the worst-case scenarios.
Among school districts operating in Portage County, Mogadore is in fiscal caution. Springfield schools are in fiscal watch, one step away from fiscal emergency.
The Village of Mogadore straddles Portage and Summit counties. The district serves 220 students in the portion of the village that is in Portage County. The remaining 71% of Mogadore schools’ students reside in the portion of Mogadore that is in Summit County.
Springfield, mostly a Summit County district, serves fewer than a dozen families with children in southwestern Suffield Township, with 150 households eligible to cast votes. The district was placed under fiscal watch on Sept. 14, 2021, Business Manager Dustin Boswell said.
Springfield Local School District is hoping district voters will approve Issue 27, a five-year, 3.77-mill additional tax levy to fund emergency requirements, commencing in 2023, first due in calendar year 2024. The county auditor’s office estimates the levy would generate $1,739,000 annually, which amounts to $132 for each $100,000 of the county auditor’s appraised value.
Southeast Local Schools originally had a levy on the November ballot, but the district’s board of education opted to remove it in light of potential state action to alleviate the effect of higher property appraisals on voters.
Here is a closer look at the other school levies Portage County voters may see on their ballots:
Aurora City School District
Issue 15: a 5.9-mill additional levy to fund current operating expenses for a continuing period of time commencing in 2023, first due in calendar year 2024. The county auditor estimates the levy would generate $5,130,000 annually, which amounts to $207 for each $100,000 of the county auditor’s appraised value.
Aurora schools opted to approach voters for additional funds when its biannual financial forecast showed a negative cash flow “in a few years,” Volosin said. Should voters approve Issue 15, proceeds will be used to pay for general operating expenses, including staff salaries, utilities, books, computers and fuel, he said.
Should voters reject Issue 15, district officials will have to determine if and where cuts can be made for the 2023-24 school year, Volosin said, adding that those discussions have not yet been held.
Ravenna City School District
Issue 16: a five-year, 6.9-mill additional levy to fund current expenses, commencing in 2023, first due in calendar year 2024. The county auditor estimates the levy would generate $2,674,000 annually, which amounts to $242 for each $100,000 of the county auditor’s appraised value.
The levy mirrors one voters rejected in May, district Treasurer Candi Lukat said, adding that low voter turnout in the primaries may have been to blame. Voter approval in the general election would bolster the district’s general fund, which “is all about people,” she said.
About 82% of the district’s general fund is earmarked for staff salaries and benefits, including those of teachers, custodians and those employed in the transportation department, Lukat said. The Special Services department and utilities take up 13%, supplies for classrooms and offices account for less than 5%, and fees the district must remit to the state and county round out the general fund, she said.
Should Issue 16 fail, the school board will reassess the district’s five-year forecast to determine “what would need to be modified moving forward,” Lukat said. Since union-negotiated salaries are in place until 2025, the district could be looking at reducing staffing levels, increasing operational efficiency where possible and finding energy cost saving opportunities while still delivering the same quality education, she said.
“We need people to understand what they’re paying for. We’re optimistic we’ll get the support we need,” Lukat said.
Mogadore Local School District
Issue 24: a five-year, 5.9-mill additional operating levy to fund current expenses, commencing in 2023, first due in calendar year 2024. The county auditor estimates the levy would generate $635,000 annually, which amounts to $207 for each $100,000 of the county auditor’s appraised value.
Should voters approve Issue 24, funds would be used to bolster the district’s general funds, which is used to pay salaries and utilities, purchase needed supplies and bolster curriculum, Isabella said.
When the district’s biannual five-year forecast indicated it would face insolvency in 2024, the state auditor’s office placed Mogadore schools in fiscal caution. That designation, which was finalized on June 30, means district officials must provide the state with a plan for bringing Mogadore’s finances back to solvency, she said.
Noting that district voters haven’t approved a school levy since 2015, school officials opted to put Issue 24 on the November ballot. Should voters reject the levy bid, the district will have to look at ways to cut expenses, examining all areas of operations, Isabella said.