Upper Arlington News

Upper Arlington schools

Budget cuts will keep levy request 'reasonable'

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Upper Arlington City School District leaders rolled out budget recommendations last week that include cutting staff positions, decreasing department budgets and increasing pay-to-play fees for student athletes in order to keep a new levy request "reasonable."

Superintendent Jeffrey Weaver said a new tax issue could be on the ballot as early as November.

Nearly 55 percent of residents turned thumbs down on a 5.8-mill levy request in November 2012.

"The district must enact reductions that address the areas in which we were most criticized in our recent campaign: our high cost per pupil and our labor costs," Weaver said.

Weaver said district officials have been meeting to scrutinize the budget since the levy request failed.

"The cuts for fiscal year 2014 and 2015 budget years will be approximately $6 million, or approximately $3 million a year," he said. "The bulk of these cuts will be undertaken through elimination of positions to address the cost per pupil and labor costs concerns.

"We believe these cuts need to be made to keep the amount of the next operating millage reasonable for and passable by our voters," he said.

Weaver said 25 full-time teaching jobs will be cut over two years, which will necessitate a reallocation and reassignment of the secondary teaching staff.

The reductions also will mean an increase in class sizes for grades K-5.

Another 8.5 administrative jobs are on the chopping block, including the elimination of an intervention services coordinator, the director of grants, assessment and student services and a central office executive assistant.

Weaver said the 21st Century Coaches and Teacher Leaders team also will be "reduced and reconfigured," and another 19 assistant and substitute teacher positions will be eliminated at the K-5 level.

Pay-to-participate fees for student athletes will be increased at the high school from $85 to $100 per sport and at the middle schools from $42.50 to $50 per sport.

The jobs of two physical education teachers will be cut at the high school level, with a physical education waiver implemented that will allow students to opt out of physical education classes if they have participated in two seasons of sports, cheerleading or marching band.

Across-the-board departmental budget cuts are planned, Weaver said. Travel, conferences and professional development opportunities will be limited and the district will let its certification for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program lapse, saving an annual $50,000.

Weaver said the first staff reductions will be done through attrition. Retirements, resignations and leaves "will be our first defense" to the staff reductions, he said.

"All of this is not easy, but it is necessary," Weaver said.

Treasurer Andy Geistfeld said once the cuts are made, "It is not likely they are coming back," even if voters approve a new levy request in November.

Last year was the first time since the late 1980s that the district faced a levy-opposition group. Members of Educate UA campaigned with the slogan, "It's OK to say No," and cited the district's high cost per pupil -- $15,172 -- as too high compared to other local districts that have also earned "excellent with distinction" rankings on the state report card.

Citizens for Upper Arlington Schools, a pro-levy group, pointed out during the campaign that the 5.8-mill levy was the lowest the district had requested since 1984 and that frugal finances had resulted in five years instead of three years between levy requests.

School district residents approved a 7.5-mill operating levy in 2004 and a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent-improvement levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that amount approved for operating funds.

Voters approved levies for 6.2 mills in 2001 and 6.2 mills in 1998.

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