Upper Arlington News

UA schools to seek 4-mill levy in November

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The Upper Arlington Board of Education approved a resolution of necessity Monday, July 15, to place a 4-mill continuing operating levy request on the fall ballot.

Board members approved the resolution unanimously.

If approved by voters, the 4-mill levy would generate between $6.3 million and $6.4 million per year for the school district and would cost homeowners an additional $140 per year for every $100,000 of home value, district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld said.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said asking voters for only 4 mills is possible because of recent budget reductions.

"We believe this is a common-sense, reasonable approach to our commitment to maintain a world-class educational experience for all students," Imhoff said.

He said if voters support the schools by passing the levy, district leaders will make a commitment to "ensure funding meets the district's financial needs for four years" and to "ensure an unreserved fund balance of approximately three months ($24 million) at the end of fiscal year 2018."

"We think it is imperative that if we ask our residents to step up and support our schools that we have an efficiency plan to make the levy funds last and ensure that any reductions will have no impact on student education," Imhoff said.

Imhoff said he and Geistfeld will present an "efficiency project" to school board members in August, with a plan to involve staff members, city leaders and the community in finding and targeting areas for future budget reductions.

"We have already spoken with city leaders about possible shared services and we hope to make sure we are using tax dollars with the most efficiency," Imhoff said.

Geistfeld said the district is currently in deficit spending, with revenue expected to be more than $5.5 million less than expenditures by the end of fiscal year 2014. That deficit number jumps to about $7 million in 2015 and about $13 million by 2018.

He said a carryover of fund balances has kept the district in the black but those balances will dwindle, creating a deficit of about $3.7 million by the end of fiscal year 2017 without new revenue from a levy request.

Geistfeld said the goal of the district's financial planning is to maintain an unreserved fund balance equal to approximately three months' worth of operating costs, or about $24 million.

"We want to maintain three months of operating costs to protect our triple-A bond rating and to mitigate risks," he said.

Those risks include delays in tax receipts, unfunded state and federal mandates and the general uncertainty of state funding, he said.

Geistfeld said district leaders responded to the failure of a 5.8-mill operating levy request in November 2012 by making $13.4 million in budget reductions. Most were personnel cuts, with more than 40 staff positions eliminated.

The district also saved $3.3 million in medical insurance premiums by requiring employees to pay a larger share and made $3 million in reductions to future budget projections, he said.

Funds from the 4-mill levy request, along with reductions targeted in the efficiency project, would ensure that the Upper Arlington school district maintains an unreserved fund balance of approximately three months of operating expenses for each of the next four years, Imhoff said.

The failure of the 5.8-mill levy last November was Upper Arlington's first levy defeat in about 20 years.

Geistfeld said the resolution of necessity approved July 15 is the first step to officially place the 4-mill levy on the fall ballot.

Board members will meet at 8 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, at the Central Office, 1950 North Mallway Drive, to consider a "resolution to proceed" with the levy request, which must be submitted to the Franklin County Board of Elections by Aug. 7.

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