Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy leaders aim to avoid levy until 2016

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Olentangy Local School District officials say the district could be funded for three more years, despite a recent turnaround in state-funding hopes.

The school board reviewed an updated five-year financial forecast at its meeting last Thursday, May 9.

Treasurer Todd Johnson said reduced insurance costs and other savings will keep Olentangy solvent at least through the end of the 2015-16 school year, even after Ohio lawmakers scrapped a state budget plan last month that could have been a windfall for the district.

For the past year, school board members have been discussing strategies to delay returning to voters after a levy was approved in May 2011.

"We feel almost certain that we will be able to make that levy stretch through fiscal year 2015," Johnson said. "You never know, it's a few years out there, but confidence is high."

Johnson said it may even be possible to stretch the levy funds through fiscal year 2016 with some additional cuts, but cautioned that strategy would necessitate a bigger levy on the ballot the following year.

The new budget forecast assumes state aid will remain flat for the foreseeable future.

District officials adopted the conservative outlook after representatives in the Ohio House rejected a two-year state budget proposal by Gov. John Kasich that would have awarded an additional $19 million to the district over the next two years.

Instead, under the House budget, Olentangy would receive just $4.25 million in fiscal year 2014 and $4.55 million in fiscal year 2015. The plan also caps funding increases for all districts at 6 percent.

The proposal would amount to a net loss of roughly $7,000 in classroom funding over the next two years, though it would give Olentangy roughly $4 million in funding for transportation.

The budget currently being debated in the Senate.

Board member Julie Wagner Feasel said the district may be able to squeeze a bit more funding out of the Ohio budget. She said school officials are in talks with state senators to raise the new funding cap.

Officials have said the cap uniquely punishes Olentangy because the district's ballooning enrollment has no limit.

"Congress is hearing from rural school districts that spend more per pupil and get more in state aid than us, and they're up there crying, 'We need more money,' " Feasel said.

"You would have thought listening that they were getting pennies, but the elected officials are listening to them. It's that heartstrings issue," she added.

Superintendent Wade Lucas said he's also lobbying to raise the funding floor to give districts more equitable baseline funding.

Overall, the updated forecast paints a rosier picture than did the November forecast, which was reviewed before state budget talks began this spring.

Since November, revenues are up by 1.3 percent -- about $2.1 million -- thanks to new construction around the district and unanticipated casino revenue.

Meanwhile, fewer teachers were hired than expected, and insurance benefits were renegotiated last year for district employees, contributing to a $4 million drop in expenditures for fiscal year 2013.

Officials expect those trends to continue into next year, providing a boost to the budget for fiscal year 2014.

bnuckles@thisweeknews.com

"We feel almost certain that we will be able to make that levy stretch through fiscal year 2016. You never know, it's a few years out there, but confidence is high."

-- TODD JOHNSON

district treasurer

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