The Columbus school board last week approved a five-year forecast that projected an increase of about 16 percent in the general budget over the next four years.

The Columbus school board last week approved a five-year forecast that projected an increase of about 16 percent in the general budget over the next four years.

At the May 18 meeting, all but one board member voted to approve the budget. Stephanie Groce, board vice president, abstained.

In an e-mail, Groce said she abstained because there was not enough data provided to support a yes or no vote.

"I would hope the board will revisit the forecast when we have a more complete picture of what is being added and what is being cut, and how reductions are being calculated over time," Groce wrote.

In the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the district's general fund budget is expected to be about $720-million. The seven-member board will vote on the budget in June.

According to the forecast, presented by budget director Robyn Essman and treasurer Penny Rucker, the district will make $11-million in cuts next year by eliminating positions and before- and after-school programs.

Groce raised concerns about how the $11-million will be tabulated over the next four years in terms of a promise the board made relating to the recent operating levy.

In November, voters approved a $77-million levy that will pay for, among other things, teachers, expanding the school day, new buses and reducing elementary class sizes.

While campaigning for the levy, the board promised it would cut $76-million from its budget over four years if the levy pass-ed.

Essman and Rucker said the $11-million in cuts planned for the next year will result in more than $44 million over four years.

Kim Norris, a district spokeswoman, described the cuts as recurring.

"If, for example, we take you out of this year's salary, obviously you are going to be out of the next year and the next year's salary," Norris said.

Groce said she wanted further details on how the $11-million could be cut from the budget next year and then be compounded for the following years.

"I'm sure there are reasonable explanations," Groce said. "I'm not saying anything is wrong. I'm not saying anything is right."

Groce also raised concerns about $19-million in cuts that are projected to be made in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

District officials did not give specifics about where the money would come from.

"You want to know what's in there," Groce said. "I really think this is the first of many meetings."

dcross@thisweeknews.com