Big Walnut Local School District might have two empty schools next year.

Big Walnut Local School District might have two empty schools next year.

District officials are likely to open the new middle school, which is under construction, as a sixth- through eighth-grade building for the 2011-12 school year.

The district had planned to put the seventh and eighth grades in the new middle school and fifth and sixth grades in the old middle school.

Superintendent Steve Mazzi said proposed cuts in the state budget might lead the district to change its plans and close the old middle school for a couple of years.

The district's Harrison Street Elementary School was closed after an operating levy failed in June 2010, and it will remain closed.

Cuts proposed by Gov. John Kasich's budget could cost the district about $771,480 annually or $3.85-million over five years.

While the district had anticipated decreases in basic state aid of about $1.5-million over five years, it had not planned for decreases in the state's reimbursement of the tangible personal property tax.

"We did not have on our radar a more aggressive phase-out of House Bill 66 tangible personal property tax reimbursement. That was not slated to be phased out until 2014. This was tax relief for businesses (and) the state was reimbursing us for those tax dollar losses," district treasurer Felicia Drummey said.

Drummey said school districts also did not anticipate the phase-out of reimbursement the district received as a result of electric utility deregulation. Big Walnut has received $89,350 per year. The district will lose all the reimbursement in 2012.

The board heard two proposals from the district staff. One was to open both middle school buildings and use one as an intermediate. The other was to open only the new middle school building.

The district passed a $30-million bond issue in 2008. That money is being used to build the new middle school. It also built the new Gen. Rosecrans Elementary School.

Students from Harrison Street went to the district's other elementaries, including Gen. Rosecrans.

During the bond issue campaign, district officials said two elementaries and the middle school were over capacity. More than 100 new students were enrolled in 2008, then-superintendent April Domine said.

Now, however, assistant superintendent Gary Barber said the district's enrollment is not growing, and it hasn't for two years.

The student population can be accommodated if the two school buildings close, Barber said.

Mazzi said he at first was not interested in delaying the opening of an intermediate school. After reviewing Kasich's proposed budget and seeing the potential loss of revenue, he said he could see the need for the delay.

After hearing Drummey's presentation, the board agreed.

A 7.5-mill, five-year emergency operating levy passed in November 2010. Opening only the new middle school and closing the old middle school would allow the district to return most of the programs that were cut because of budget constraints for the 2010-11 school year.

That plan would require hiring, or recalling from layoff, a high school art teacher, a middle school library aide, a curriculum director, a middle school counselor, a middle school teacher, a fourth-grade teacher and a curriculum director.

Opening both middle schools would require filling 11.5 staff positions.

If only one middle school closed, six would be hired.

Both plans show the district will spend in excess of revenue by the school year 2013-14. By opening the new middle school and closing the old middle school, the district would be in the hole only $2.9-million, versus $4-million if all school buildings except Harrison Street were open.

Voters are likely to see a request for more operating revenue in 2014, officials said, offering no other details.

One element of the proposed state budget could save the district money, Drummey said.

The district could save $362,101 over the next five years if the legislature approves Kasich's proposal to increase employees' share of pension contributions. Employees now pay 10 percent of their wages. Under the plan, they would pay 12 percent. At the same time, the district's contribution would drop from 14 percent of an employee's pay to 12 percent.