The New Albany-Plain Local school board approved its five-year financial forecast May 23 in a split vote.

The New Albany-Plain Local school board approved its five-year financial forecast May 23 in a split vote.

The board was given two forecasts to review. One showed a cash balance of $9,644 at the end of fiscal year 2013, and the other showed a $451,450 deficit at the end of the same year.

Four board members president Mark Ryan, vice president Laura Kohler, Natalie Matt and Cheri Lehmann voted to approve the forecast that did not show a deficit. Michael Klein voted against it.

During the discussion, superintendent April Domine said the forecast with a balance of $9,644 included: the reduction of permanent substitutes, saving $100,000 annually; fixing the costs of supplies and equipment regardless of enrollment growth; and eliminating hiring new teachers for fiscal year 2012.

Klein argued that the approved forecast did not invest in the district's future and did not include new programming or funds to address the district's overcrowding issue. He said the district already absorbed costs for permanent improvements after allowing the last permanent improvements levy to expire.

By putting off so many expenses, Klein said, the district is going to have to ask for a lot of money when any issue is placed on the ballot.

"We will be out of permanent improvements money, out of operating money and we are out of space," he said.

Matt countered that the board is not procrastinating on any decisions. Rather, she said, the board is facing the tough decisions on big issues at the same time it is dealing with an unusual economic situation.

"We are trying to give the community the time to recover in a very difficult economic moment in our country," she said. "We're not putting it off. We're giving people space to recover."

Lehmann admitted the forecast had weaknesses but said the district would have to continue to look for creative ways to save money.

"There's not a better plan. These both are mediocre," Lehmann said of the two forecast options. "I wish we could do more."

Domine said the approved forecast does not include staffing for the pilot all-day kindergarten program, which would target students identified as academically at-risk, or the expansion of the Mandarin Chinese program for seventh-graders. Under the current forecast, implementation of those programs would be delayed at least a year.

Klein called that delay "a lost opportunity."

Ryan agreed that those are lost opportunities but he said, "Our obligation is to protect what we have first."

Ryan argued that the district is investing in the future by expanding programs it does not have to fully fund. He mentioned the financial literacy programs through a partnership with Junior Achievement of Central Ohio, which began earlier this year.

He also said the board has committed to keep the district financially sustainable through fiscal year 2013 to keep a former campaign promise.

Domine reminded the board that the forecast is used by the district to anticipate future costs but the board can change the forecast as actual numbers come in.

"It does change over time and does drive how we budget but it is not the budget," she said.

Matt said the district is anticipating more accurate financial estimates in the summer regarding state funding cuts for schools and the county auditor's property reappraisals, for example. She asked if teachers for the all-day kindergarten program and seventh-grade Mandarin Chinese could be hired if the estimates were to change.

Domine said those programs could be instituted at any time. She said students already have been identified for the all-day kindergarten program and The Ohio State University already has told the district it has five to six candidates available to teach the Mandarin Chinese class. The only down side is that Ohio State can't guarantee those Chinese teachers would be available later this summer, Domine said.

The financial review and reporting committee, which made recommendations on the five-year forecast, also asked the district to see if it could keep per-pupil expenditures frozen at the estimated $11,800 cost to educate one child in 2010. Domine told the board May 23 that if the district were to do that, it would need to cut $3.882 million out of the district's budget for fiscal year 2012 and $5 million out of the budget for fiscal year 2013.