Budget issues and the superintendent's retirement defined 2012 for the Canal Winchester Local School District.

Budget issues and the superintendent's retirement defined 2012 for the Canal Winchester Local School District.

After crunching numbers, the school board decided on May 21 not to increase pay-to-participate fees for the 2012-2013 school year, meaning the $300 charge per activity that athletes and members of the middle and high school bands pay remained unchanged.

The board also placed a new $600 cap on pay-to-participate fees, which cover almost half of what the programs cost to operate; the district covers the remaining portion.

To protect the district's bottom line, the board approved a cash balance policy in May that requires the district to have a minimum of $2.7 million on hand at all times, enough to take care of normal monthly expenses.

"Our greatest challenge in 2012 was meeting students' needs with approximately 50 fewer employees than 2010-2011," Superintendent Kimberley Miller-Smith said. "We continue to arrange and rearrange schedules and assignments to make the reduced staffing levels work. This continues to be necessary as we strive to sustain and stabilize district finances while balancing the higher expectations for student achievement."

In June, Treasurer Joyce Boyer reported the district had received about $627,000 more than it anticipated in taxes for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2012.

Real estate taxes were nearly $548,000 ahead of projections -- a 4-percent gain -- and personal property collections were up by 1 percent or nearly $10,500, she said.

Rollback and Homestead taxes also experienced a 3.3-percent gain, bringing them nearly $68,700 above estimates, Boyer said.

In July, Miller-Smith surprised the board by announcing she would retire at the end of the year. And in August, the board hired the Ohio School Boards Association to help with the search for her replacement.

When classes resumed in August, students living within one mile of the high school felt the impact of transportation cuts approved in 2011: They began walking to school in order to save the district approximately $124,000.

By September, 30 candidates had applied for the superintendent's job, and the board interviewed six semi-finalists in October before bringing back three of them for additional interviews.

In October, Miller-Smith announced that the district had received an "excellent" rating on the preliminary 2012 state report card issued by the Ohio Department of Education.

"We did very well there," board President Debra Waites said. "The staff, the students, and the community should be proud of their schools.

"Another accomplishment is the way we have kept our budget in check and are actually in a better position than previously projected financially," she added.

In October, Boyer also provided the board with an update on the district's five-year financial forecast. Overall, it assumed there would be no additional staff hired through fiscal year 2017, no base salary increases through the 2012-2013 school years, a slight increase in base salaries for the subsequent years of the forecast, and slight step increments built into the negotiated salary schedule.

The budget also anticipated the elimination of funding from the Ed Jobs program over the life of the forecast; increases in purchased services of up to 2 percent; and annual increases for the purchases of supplies and equipment.

In terms of revenue, Boyer projected that property values will decrease when the Fairfield County Auditor's office completes the re-evaluation of property, which will affect 2014 tax collections, but she also anticipates that property values will increase slightly after 2013 due to re-evaluations and biennial updates completed by the auditors of Franklin and Fairfield counties.

The projections also incorporated money from the emergency levy that passed in November 2011 that will affect collections through calendar year 2014 and fiscal year 2015; the elimination of income from the tangible personal property tax; an increase in revenue from income taxes; and the receipt of the same amount of total dollars in state funding through FY 2017.

Based on the projections, the expenditures in the budget are expected to eventually exceed revenues by $382,000 in FY 2014; $4.7 million in FY 2015; $8.6 million in FY 2016; and $9.8 million in FY 2017.

In November, James Sotlar was named to succeed Miller-Smith as superintendent, effective Jan. 1. He comes to Canal Winchester from Pickerington, where he was assistant superintendent.

Miller-Smith said Canal Winchester schools had a number of accomplishments in 2012, including the "excellent" rating on the preliminary state report card, the development of a financial stability plan, the creation of a multi-faceted communication plan, and the planning and implementation of dual enrollment and development course offerings with Columbus State Community College.

In November, Canal Winchester High School Principal Kirk Henderson talked to the board about launching college courses at the high school in the near future. Currently, he said, about 15 students leave the high school campus to take classes at CSCC.

"Academically, we are at the top of our game, no one can doubt that," Waites said. "But it is much more than that in our district. The people -- students, staff, parents and community -- are what make our district stand out from the others.

"They will not find a more dedicated and passionate staff anywhere than here at CWLSD," she said. "They are all committed to seeing that each student receives the best possible education, no matter what their needs."