Delaware News

Big Walnut schools

Treasurer: Levy a must in 2014 or '15 to avoid 'cliff'

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The Big Walnut Local School District needs to put an operating levy on the ballot in November 2014 or May 2015, district Treasurer Felicia Drummey told the school board Monday, July 8.

The district's five-year emergency levy, which raises about $4.9 million annually, expires in 2015.

"We're already at the tipping point of our levy life cycle," Drummey said. "We fall off the cliff in (fiscal year) 2017" without new money.

She said after the meeting that the district expects to have a cash balance of only $928,000 for fiscal year 2016 if there is no new money, followed by a deficit of about $8 million for fiscal year 2017.

Big Walnut has a cash carryover of about $7.5 million as of the end of fiscal 2013 on June 30 and should be financially stable for the next two years, Drummey said. The 3,000-student district has a general fund budget of about $28 million this year.

District officials remember all too vividly the financial crisis that hit Big Walnut several years ago until passage of a 7.5-mill emergency levy in 2010. Staffing cuts were made and other cutbacks were necessary following the defeat of several levies before 2010.

If no new levy is approved, the district would need to make cuts of at least $2.5 million in the 2015-16 school year, Drummey told the board.

She also said it is too early to determine if another emergency levy should be sought or if some kind of continuing levy would be needed.

"I'm glad we're bringing this up two years early (so we know) where we are today and where we will be in two years," board member Pamula Lillie said.

"(We have) an obligation to let our community members know what's going on," said board member Verna Hines. "I think a lot of people are totally unaware."

Drummey said among the biggest unknown factors are how much state aid the district will continue to receive as well as the extent of possible cuts to federal grants and reimbursements.

She said cuts to some federal aid announced recently, including funding for reading and math programs and special education, mean the district will lose about $420,000 over the next five years.

That loss, which would be absorbed by the general fund, was not factored into the district's five-year financial forecast update made in May. The loss will be included in the forecast to be presented in October to the board.

Several new administrative hires were announced at the July 8 meeting, including an assistant treasurer, a position that Drummey had been pushing to have filled. Big Walnut has not had an assistant treasurer since 2009 due to cutbacks.

Drummey said before the meeting that she is pleased the board is giving her help, because having an assistant will free her up from some day-to-day tasks to spend more time on long-range financial planning.

The board voted 4-0, with member Andrew Wecker absent, to hire Crystal Lynn Starner as assistant treasurer. The board approved a two-year contract for Starner, which took effect Friday, July 12. She will be paid $72,000 a year. She previously was assistant treasurer with the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District.

Other new administrators include Ryan McLane and Jennifer Watenpool.

McLane, who was principal at Utica Junior High School in the North Fork Local School District, was approved by the board to be principal at Big Walnut Intermediate School. His two-year contract pays $73,000 annually and takes effect Aug. 1.

He replaces Steve Butler, who will serve in a consultant position with the district.

Watenpool will be principal at General Rosecrans Elementary School. She previously was assistant principal at National Heritage Academies in Cincinnati. She was given a two-year contract that takes effect Aug. 1 and pays $71,000 a year.

She replaces Peggy McMurry, who departed for a principal position in the Olentangy Local School District.

School officials could not provide by press time details of total compensation, including health-care benefits and pension, for the new administrators.

The school board will have two meetings in August.

A work session is set for 7:30 a.m. Aug. 5 in the conference room at the intermediate school, 105 Baughman St., Sunbury. A regular board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 in the media center at the high school, 555 S. Old 3C Road, Sunbury.

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