Upper Arlington News

If the levy fails

Plan outlines $6 million in cuts to district budget

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Upper Arlington school leaders rolled out a financial contingency plan Monday to answer the question, "What happens if the school levy fails?"

Issue 52 is a 4-mill, continuing operating levy the school district has placed on the Nov. 5 ballot. If approved by voters, it would generate about $6.3 million per year and would cost homeowners an additional $140 per year for every $100,000 of home value, district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld said.

The contingency plan presented at the school board's Sept. 9 meeting describes how leaders would cut $6 million from the district budget over two years.

"The 4-mill levy request would generate about $6 million, so we would have to reduce our budget by about $6 million if the levy fails," Geistfeld said.

Because 85 percent of the district budget goes to teacher salaries, the only way to significantly cut expenses is to cut more positions, he said.

Phase one of the plan would eliminate 29 positions in instructional and administrative services, along with seven support positions, to save $2.5 million in personnel costs by Aug. 1, 2014.

Another $500,000 in savings would be found by looking at cuts in extracurricular and co-curricular programs, equipment, supplies and services.

Phase two of the plan would cut another 26 instructional and administrative positions, along with 6.5 support services positions, to save another $2.5 million in personnel costs by Aug. 1, 2015. An additional $500,000 in cuts would also be made by that date by further eliminating extracurriculars, co-curriculars, equipment and services.

"Because education is a service industry and the school district believes in dedicating its resources to the classroom, the only way to cut such a significant amount from the budget is to greatly reduce the number of staff members, which would, in turn, reduce the number of programs, services and supports offered to students," Geistfeld said.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said the personnel cuts in the contingency plan, added to the loss of 30 staff positions last year, would mean the elimination of almost 100 staff members over three years.

"There is no way around it," he said. "If we have 100 less staff members over three years, it will make an impact. Our educational offerings would look vastly different than today.

"We would have increased class sizes and less student offerings," he said. "We would also have to look at what we could afford to offer in the areas of Advanced Placement classes and IB (International Baccalaureate), along with clubs, athletics, art, music and extracurricular activities."

Board member Marge Pizzuti said officials "have an obligation to be transparent and communicate the consequences so that citizens can see how their vote matters."

If the contingency cuts occur, she said the damage to the school district could be significant.

"Once this happens, we would see a rapid deterioration and damage that might be hard to overcome," Pizzuti said. "It might be hard to reclaim the excellence of this district."

The failure of a 5.8-mill levy request in November 2012 -- Upper Arlington's first school levy failure since the late 1980s -- resulted in the elimination of 30 staff positions, an increase in athletic fees from $85 to $100 per sport at the high school level and from $42.50 to $50 per sport at the middle schools, and across-the-board departmental budget cuts.

Imhoff said the lower millage for the current levy request is because of those cuts, along with his promise to find $4.5 million more in cuts -- through the district's new efficiency project -- by the end of fiscal year 2017.

He said if voters approve the 4-mill levy in November, board members will commit to make the money it generates last at least four years.

Geistfeld said no one wants to plan for the failure of a school levy.

"The district has a long history of strong financial discipline," he said. "The financial contingency plan would be put in place should the levy fail. No one wants the levy to fail, but it would be irresponsible if we did not plan for it, just in case."

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