'Next steps' likely to hit school programs, district staff
The administrative team for Upper Arlington schools is talking about next steps this week as the district deals with voter rejection of a 5.8-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Superintendent Jeff Weaver said both programs and staff may be affected by the need to cut $2 million to $4 million from the district budget before next school year, but he said leaders are "being careful not to overreact."
District residents gave a big thumbs-down to Issue 51 last week, with 11,641 votes (54.86 percent) against the levy compared to 9,578 votes (45.14 percent) in favor of the request, according to unofficial results from the Franklin County Board of Elections.
"We are all taking a deep breath and not reacting, so that we don't overreact," Weaver said.
He said the tough economy likely played a large part in the failure of the tax issue.
"I think we heard throughout the campaign that it was about taxes and public employee salaries and benefits," he said. "We did not hear any talk that sounded like we were not doing a good job educating our kids. It seemed more a dissatisfaction with the expenditures, so that is what we have to address."
Educate UA was the group that opposed the levy request, using a grassroots effort with yard signs and campaign literature to let residents know, "It's OK to Vote No on 51."
The group's campaign literature said school leaders should address a high per-pupil expenditure of $15,172, and teacher salaries and compensation packages before asking residents for more tax money.
The group that campaigned for the levy, Citizens for UA Schools, said the district had stretched a 2007 levy for five years but needed additional revenue to continue to offer current school programs.
Weaver is meeting with principals in a leadership sessions this week.
"That is when we will first start talking about next steps," he said. "I have asked people to think about the levy and how we might want to approach it in the future, but right now, we will get our administrative team together and start to talk about it."
He said anticipated retirements and attrition will play into budget decisions, as will an analysis of school programs and services.
"We need to determine how we can be responsive to what we heard from voters and rein in the cost of what we do," he said. "We have a depth of programs and services that is unrivaled by other school districts, but maybe it has to get a little narrower and a little more shallow."
Weaver said Treasurer Andy Geistfeld will have an updated five-year financial forecast for school board members in January.
According to the September 2012 five-year forecast, expenses exceeded revenue this year and will continue that pattern without additional revenue or budget cuts. The unreserved general fund balance will be down to about $3.2 million by the end of fiscal year 2015, with a deficit of about $10.4 million expected in 2016, according to Geistfeld's figures.
The forecast and other financial documents may be viewed on the district website, at uaschools.org. Click on the "district" link, then "fiscal."
Weaver said the current contract with teachers expires in 2014; the contract with classified personnel expires in December 2013.
Geistfeld said UA schools have lost $2.6 million in state funding so far and he projects an additional loss of $1 million in state funds in the near future.
He said Upper Arlington's school tax rates are still lower than those in Bexley, Hilliard, New Albany, Westerville, Dublin and Worthington.
Teachers agreed to base salary freezes for 2012 and 2013 and administrators' salaries were frozen in 2012, he said. The district also froze budgets for individual school buildings and most department budgets, changed health care providers twice to decrease premium costs and will be increasing the employee share of medical premiums to 15 percent by 2014. Workers' compensation costs were also reduced when the district became self-insured.
The 5.8-mill operating levy would have generated about $9.2 million annually for the school district, Geistfeld has said. It would have cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per $100,000 in property value.
School district residents last approved a 6.2-mill operating levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that amount approved for operating expenses and the rest for capital improvement needs.
Earlier levies approved by voters were a 7.5-mill operating levy in 2004; 6.2 mills in 2001 and 6.2 mills in 1998.
"We did not hear any talk that sounded like we were not doing a good job educating our kids. It seemed more a dissatisfaction with the expenditures, so that is what we have to address."
- JEFF WEAVER
Upper Arlington schools