Hilliard Northwest News

Forecast: Deficit begins in fiscal year 2014

Hilliard schools could need levy in 2014 or 2015 to close budget gap

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Hilliard City Schools officials could return to the ballot in the next two years for a new funding request, based on the most recent five-year forecast.

Treasurer Brian Wilson presented a revision of the forecast for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, at the May 28 school board meeting. Ohio law requires school boards to approve a five-year forecast prior to Oct. 31 and update it between April 1 and May 31 each year.

The board approved the forecast 4-1, with Paul Lambert dissenting.

Lambert reiterated the forecast still included spending that likely would require a ballot issue in 2014, something he said would not be palatable to the electorate.

School board President Andy Teater said the forecast was a tool to direct the board in future decision-making.

Wilson told board members May 28 that the forecast was "not written in stone," but was subject to unpredictable decisions at the state level concerning public-school funding, particularly vouchers that permit students in suburban districts to redirect property-tax revenue to a private or charter school of their choice.

"There are no significant changes since October," Wilson said.

The revisions included a change in the estimated deficit for fiscal year 2017. Last October's forecast had shown a deficit of $28 million, but the revised forecast now projects a $19.2 million deficit.

The updated five-year forecast also took into consideration marginal savings from not filling open positions in the district.

"(The revised budget) reflects about $1 million less in salaries and $1.4 million less in benefits" related to positions not filled after retirements, Wilson said.

Still, the reduction in expenditures represented less than a 2 percent variance in the overall budget, Wilson said.

For fiscal year 2012, ending June 30, total expenditures are estimated at $159.6 million; revenue and all other funding sources are estimated at $162.5 million.

For fiscal year 2013, expenses are estimated at $162.2 million; revenue and all other funding sources are estimated at $164.1 million.

Beginning in fiscal year 2014, expenditures begin to exceed revenue and funding sources.

Expenses are estimated at $166.6 million for fiscal year 2014; revenue and other funding sources are estimated at $165.9 million.

"Hilliard City Schools is committed to implementing cost-effective operations while still providing a high-quality education," Wilson said. "We have trimmed and cut where possible. This forecast is a reflection of the stingy approach our schools have taken with available resources."

Lambert said while he remained confident that the forecast reflects the strategy of the district's 2020 Plan and the expertise and acumen of Wilson's accounting and budgeting skills, the forecast remains dependent on property-tax revenue.

"It remains my opinion that this spending forecast requires an increase in property taxes, on the order of 6.4 mills, which our community is unlikely to support in 2014, when it looks like we will have to return to the ballot," Lambert said.

Teater responded it was far too early to consider millage amounts for a future levy.

"This is a forecast," Teater said. "It is way too early to discuss an amount of mills for a levy in 2014 ... but it does show we have some work to do (and) we need to start having those discussions."

Meanwhile, Wilson said, the district will continue to closely observe activity at the Ohio Statehouse.

"What happens downtown greatly affects our community," Wilson said. "We have been and will continue to watch these budget proceedings closely to make sure our residents' voices are heard when it comes to school funding cuts."

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