Pinning the future on a March levy, the Westerville Board of Education on Jan. 23 approved $16.7 million in additional budget cuts, and at the same time approved a list of which programs would be first to return if voters approve Issue 10.

Pinning the future on a March levy, the Westerville Board of Education on Jan. 23 approved $16.7 million in additional budget cuts, and at the same time approved a list of which programs would be first to return if voters approve Issue 10.

Board members voted 5-0 to approve cuts for next school year, including all sports and extracurricular activities, changes to busing and eliminating more than 200 teaching and staff positions.

The board also unanimously approved a ranked list of which programs and services the district would consider restoring first, should the levy pass. The 6.9-mill, five-year levy, if approved, is expected to raise $16.5 million per year, according to district figures. It is expected to cost property owners an additional $210 for every $100,000 of home valuation.

Programs for gifted students and reading intervention are among the items the district hopes to restore first. Transportation is not on the list of things that would automatically be restored if the March levy passes, although district officials have said repeatedly that it is a priority.

Money from the levy will not be collected until 2013. However, the district has said it may be able to leverage some of the anticipated revenue to bring back some programs in the fall.

Westerville school officials needed to bridge a $23-million budget deficit after voters rejected a combined 4.06-mill property tax and a 0.5-mill income tax in November.

The board made the first round of cuts in December. Those included high school duty monitors, 28 custodian positions and two administrators' jobs.

Board members said Monday the cuts were not something they wanted to vote for, but had to. Ohio law requires public school districts to operate with balanced budgets; if the Westerville district does not submit a five-year financial forecast by the end of January, it risks being placed on the Ohio Department of Education's "fiscal caution" list.

"We certainly don't want the district to be a state-minimum district," board member Kristi Robbins said.

Earlier this month, the board asked district administrators to prioritize each of the programs and activities that are expected to be eliminated, using a ranking system that includes such factors as student impact; how the program or activity contributes to a positive performance on the state report card and Ohio educational requirements; and how it better prepares students for college and the post-graduation workforce.

The rankings will be a guide to help the district decide which offerings should return first, if the March levy is approved, but currently, none of the items on the chopping block has funding.

Reading intervention and services for students identified as gifted learners are among the district's "top recommendations" to the board for reinstatement because they positively affect student achievement and Westerville's performance on state and federal benchmarks, Superintendent Dan Good said.

District officials and a community committee continue to examine ways to maintain Westerville's magnet school program. The most feasible solution will likely involve combining several programs into one building.

Regardless of future funding, the Central College and Longfellow elementary buildings are expected to close, Good said. The upside is that this move will allow the district to serve as many students as want to attend a magnet school; currently, a lottery system is used because seats are limited, he said.

"The downside is, we don't have time to get this ready by next year," Good said.

The 2012-13 school year will be one of transition for the magnet program, with students attending Central College and Longfellow moved to Hanby Elementary, Good said.

The district will suspend the lottery for incoming first-grade students while details of the program's future are finalized, he said.

The International Baccalaureate program will be spared, thanks to the fundraising efforts of a committee designed to examine ways to keep it.

The committee has established a fund with the Columbus Foundation and has already raised enough money to cover the costs for the two-year program designed for high school juniors and seniors.

The group also has a plan to sustain the program without having to use general fund dollars, Good said.

"That demonstrates the power of the collaborate (groups) we have," he said.

Even if the March levy is approved, the district still anticipates some cuts will be permanent and many programs will be different.

"Nothing's coming back unless there's new revenue," Good said. "We're reimagining each of these products and services."

The complete list of programs to be cut and the priority ranking for reinstating them can be found online: www.westerville.k12.oh.us.