Whether a levy passes or fails in May, the budget for South-Western City Schools will have to get smaller.

Whether a levy passes or fails in May, the budget for South-Western City Schools will have to get smaller.

Board of education members voted 5-0 during a special meeting last month in favor of a plan to make $8-million in budget cuts if an 8.3-mill, four-year operating levy fails in May, and $1.6-million in cuts if the levy passes.

"This is not something anyone wants to do," assistant superintendent Phil Warner said at the Feb. 12 meeting. "What we are asking the board to consider is not in the best interests of our 21,000 students."

Warner presented "cost containment strategies" to board and community members in the auditorium of Central Crossing High School at the special meeting, the third meeting that week to discuss a plan for balancing the district's budget in the coming years.

If passed, the 8.3-mill, four-year levy would raise nearly $21-million annually for the district and increase property taxes about $22 monthly, or $254 annually, for every $100,000 of home value, district Treasurer Hugh Garside said.

According to data from the Columbus Board of Realtors, the average home price in the district for 2008 was $124,690.

After the four-year time period, board members can decide to seek the levy's renewal or discontinue it.

Renewal would require voter approval.

Two levels of cost-cutting measures were proposed.

Level one assumes the May levy will pass and money from the federal stimulus bill in Congress will reach SWCS.

Still, "level one will be implemented regardless of the levy outcome," Warner said.

Level one cuts involve:

• Reducing staff by one administrator, 8.5 certificated and two classified personnel positions, which would save the district an estimated $565,000.

• Reducing district budgets totaling $110,000.

• Saving $5,000 by charging students for summer school.

• Shifting special education specialist payrolls to a government fund, producing a savings of about $1-million, assuming the government authorizes the money.

Warner said district officials "are going to continue to roll the dice" with the federal government supplying the $1-million for special education in the district.

"Right now we just don't know," he said. "If for some reason those funds don't flow, then we'll have to make other considerations to the board."

Other considerations would require cutting teachers not yet identified in the budget reduction plan, he said.

According to the plan, level one reductions would save the district $1.68-million.

Level two cuts involve:

• Cutting seven administrative, 29 certificated and 30 classified staff members in the district, bringing a savings of nearly $2.5-million.

•ĘEliminating athletics, co- and extracurricular activities and clubs, producing a savings of $2.5-million.

•ĘSaving nearly $1.5-million by closing facilities during non-school hours, eliminating high school busing, reducing the building maintenance budget, board supported and purchased services.

Harrisburg and Kingston elementary schools would close, as well, if the levy fails. Warner said the buildings would be "mothballed" should the need arise for their closure.

According to the plan, level two cuts total approximately $6.5-million.

"It's not easy reading this," said board member Randy Reisling before the vote for approval.

Reisling said he worried about the impact of personnel cuts on school program offerings.

"I can't stand here and say program offerings will not be affected," Warner said.

He added planning officials made budget cut considerations that would "minimize the damaging effects" on school programs.

Warner said class sizes will need to increase and teachers of art, music and physical education will need to travel more from school to school.

Also at the meeting, board president Cathy Johnson said Superintendent Bill Wise and Garside have decided to forgo salary increases this year.

"We are grateful for their offer," Johnson said.

She added the district needs "community-minded" and "child-centered" leaders in times like these.

"This board knows how difficult these cuts are," she said.

After the meeting, Wise said he chose to forgo the raise on behalf the community.

"We're asking the community in difficult times to make a sacrifice," he said. "I felt it appropriate to do the same."

If the levy fails, the district will have made more than $22-million in cuts since 2006.

Garside said the decision to sacrifice his salary was a "mutual feeling" between himself and Wise.

He said employees in the private sector are taking pay cuts or missing out on raises. It's only right, Garside said, for him to do the same.

"When times are difficult, you have to do difficult things," he said.