Upper Arlington school leaders answered questions that ranged from why the district's per-pupil costs are so high to why teachers don't pay more of their health-care costs at a public levy meeting held last week by the Upper Arlington 9-12 Group.

Upper Arlington school leaders answered questions that ranged from why the district's per-pupil costs are so high to why teachers don't pay more of their health-care costs at a public levy meeting held last week by the Upper Arlington 9-12 Group.

Superintendent Jeff Weaver and district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld addressed members of the community and UA 9-12 Group members at a meeting Thursday, Aug. 16.

The audience submitted questions on index cards after Geistfeld and Weaver presented an overview of school finances and the district's need for the 5.8-mill operating levy on the November ballot.

Geistfeld said the 5.8-mill levy, if approved by voters, would generate about $9.2 million per calendar year for the district and would meet its operating needs for three years.

He said the levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per $100,000 in property valuation.

District expenses began to exceed revenue this year, Geistfeld said. Projected expenses in 2013 are $82.1 million, with revenue predicted at $74 million. Although the financial forecast shows a positive fund balance of more than $23 million by the end of fiscal year 2013, he said that number could drop fast, since expenses will continue to exceed revenue.

The fund balance is expected to be down to $12.3 million at the end of fiscal year 2014, with a deficit of $444,000 predicted for 2015.

School district residents last approved a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent improvement levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that going for operating funds.

Cat Hackett, director of the 9-12 Group, facilitated the meeting.

She said her group's goals are to "educate residents on school and community issues" and promote pride in the community and the Constitution.

"This is our first formal presentation in the levy campaign," Weaver said. "We believe a school levy is an investment in education and property values. I've worked at school districts in five states and I have never seen a community with such pride in the issues surrounding their community."

Weaver gave out a "Points of Pride" sheet that described 47 recent achievements by the district and its students, including an "Excellent with Distinction" rating on the state report card last year. He said the district has been rated "Excellent" for the past 11 years.

"We also had students playing in Carnegie Hall; placing nationally in science competitions; and our seniors won more than $6 million in scholarships," he said. "I think our student opportunities are unmatched anywhere."

Those student opportunities come with a price, though, according to one of the questions asked: "Why is Upper Arlington's cost per pupil higher than many other school districts?"

According to Ohio Department of Education data, Upper Arlington's cost per pupil is $15,172. Cost per pupil for Columbus City Schools is $14,967; Bexley City Schools is $14,337; Worthington City Schools is $13,305; Gahanna schools is $11,625; and Westerville schools is $10,890.

Geistfeld said per-pupil costs are largely based on teachers' salaries and how much experience they have, because more-experienced teachers get higher salaries.

"As teachers get more experienced in other districts, they will be paying more per student also," he said.

Weaver said 42 experienced teachers retired from Upper Arlington schools this year.

"In most cases, we can bring in teachers with less than five years experience to replace them, so it will be less expensive," he said. "In three to five years from now, we may also be paying teachers differently."

He said state changes in education indicate teacher salaries will be performance-based instead of the current system, where negotiated contracts call for automatic step increases based on years served.

Geistfeld said teachers also are paying more of their health-insurance costs.

"We were one of the first districts to go to a high-deductible staff health-care plan," he said. "We have also changed health-care providers twice over the past five years to better manage premiums."

He said teachers now pay 15 percent of the total cost of their premiums.

"It may not sound like much, but the trend is moving toward staff members taking on more and more of their health-care costs," he said.

Another question concerned casino proceeds and asked why Geistfeld did not include those expected dollars in his five-year financial forecast.

Geistfeld said the district saw no additional money from the state lottery, so he did not include any projected casino proceeds in the forecast.

"If we do get any money from the casino, we will use it to stretch the levy further than three years," he said.

Weaver said the casino money "is like what was promised from the state lottery."

"Our estimated revenue from the casino money is about $500,000 a year, but that is not much in an $80 million budget," he said. "Yes, any extra dollars can help, but the state trend is to take money away at the same time they are giving it to us."

Another question concerned people moving out of Upper Arlington because of the high tax rate.

Weaver said a property tax comparison this year shows Upper Arlington tax rates are lower than those in Worthington, Dublin, Westerville, New Albany and Bexley.

"This levy is to continue our same school program into the future," he said. "I would say a home in Upper Arlington and education in Upper Arlington is a pretty good value. Our school program is unmatched by any other programs and I think that is what the community wants."