Upper Arlington News

Upper Arlington schools

Levy request comes with promise of frugality

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The Upper Arlington Board of Education voted unanimously Aug. 5 to place a 4-mill continuing operating levy on the fall ballot.

The board approved a "resolution to proceed" with the levy at an 8 a.m. meeting Monday and presented a timeline for a new district efficiency project.

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

The failure of a 5.8-mill levy last November led to budget reductions of about $13.4 million, mostly in personnel cuts that eliminated approximately 40 staff positions. The district also saved about $3.3 million in medical insurance premiums by requiring employees to pay a larger share of their health insurance costs, Geistfeld said.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said the lower millage is possible this year because of the budget reductions and because of a new efficiency project that aims "to reduce forecasted costs by a cumulative $4.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2017."

He also said if voters approve the 4-mill levy, district leaders will commit to making the funds last at least four years.

Imhoff said the efficiency project will help keep that promise.

"Every household in America has had to tighten its belt and school districts are no different," he said. "If we are going to ask our community for additional funding, we must ensure that we are doing our part in making those funds last as long as possible."

He said the plan is designed to ensure an unreserved general fund balance of at least three months' worth of operating costs -- $24 million -- by the end of fiscal year 2018.

Geistfeld said the district is currently in deficit spending, with revenue expected to come in at more than $5.5 million less than expenditures by the end of fiscal year 2014.

A carryover of fund balances has kept the district in the black so far, but the district's five-year forecast shows those balances dwindling to a projected deficit of $3.7 million by the end of fiscal year 2017 without new revenue.

Imhoff and Geistfeld presented a timeline for the efficiency plan at the Aug. 5 meeting.

"The first and perhaps most important step in the efficiency project is gathering input from the many groups that play a role in the success of Upper Arlington schools and in turn, the students of this community," Imhoff said.

He said members of the Financial Advisory and Consulting Team and the PTO Presidents Council will serve as advisory groups to create an online survey. A link to the survey will be on the district website, uaschools.org, in early October, and included in parent emails and on social media sites.

Paper copies of the survey will be available at the schools, the Upper Arlington Senior Center, the Upper Arlington Library and city offices.

"The district will also conduct an internal needs assessment by holding staff-member forums at each of the district's facilities," Imhoff said.

He said all survey data will be posted on the district website and that school leaders will use the data to create an efficiency plan scheduled for presentation to school board members in January 2014.

"While the term 'efficiency' leads many to think of financial matters, Upper Arlington schools' efficiency project is designed to benefit more than the bottom line," Imhoff said.

"This project will do that by eliminating overlap and streamlining practices while increasing the focus on student and instructional needs," he said.

He said the plan will include detailed action steps with targeted cost-reduction amounts for each of the next three fiscal years.

"A key part of this project will be openness in communication with our community," he said. "We are here to serve the public and we feel very strongly about keeping residents up to date with every step of this project."

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