As the Westerville City School District deals with a major budget deficit, committees formed by the district have been working to find ways to preserve programs that otherwise would be cut.

As the Westerville City School District deals with a major budget deficit, committees formed by the district have been working to find ways to preserve programs that otherwise would be cut.

The committees began meeting shortly after Westerville voters rejected a levy request in November.

By the time the school board voted to make cuts to the 2012-2013 budget, the group examining the International Baccalaureate program had planned and executed fundraising to save the program.

"We spent a lot of time trying to untangle the budgeting and the scheduling process with the district because it's complex," said Chris Arens, who served on the committee. "By the time we got the structure, we had almost no time to raise the money."

In just three days, the committee raised $16,000, securing the program for the next two years, Arens said. The money primarily came from families who are involved or have been involved, and those connected with them, Arens said.

Volunteers will work to start an endowment program to fund the program for years, he said.

Other committees continue to work out the complexities of finding ways to alter programs so the district can continue to offer them.

A committee examining magnet schools has come up with three models for the district to perform feasibility studies on, said Superintendent Dan Good.

The option with the greatest amount of committee support involved having magnet programs available throughout the district in zones so any interested student could be involved, Good said.

"This would actually increase access and reduce general fund expenditures," he said.

While the district examines those options, Central College and Longfellow magnet schools will close, and the students who currently attend those schools will be moved to Hanby Magnet School, Good said.

The district will not enroll a new first-grade class in the magnet program.

"It's a plan to allow us to plan, so we have a year to design the new zones," Good said.

Two committees working on extracurricular activities - one examining athletics and the other looking at other extracurricular activities - are expected to present their findings to the board in mid-March, Good said.

"They have several proposals in the hopper. We're in the process of looking at the feasibility of those possibilities," he said.

Those committees have an especially complex task, Good said, because of how much data they have to consider, such as booster funds, gate receipts, pay-to-participate fees and transportation costs. A large part of the committees' task includes figuring out how high pay-to-participate fees could go before families would find participation too cost-prohibitive, Good said. Data came from a 2004-05 study on fees.

"At what points will families say, 'there's just no way,' especially if a family has multiple participants or multi-season players," Good said.

After the committee determines fees and considers gate receipts, it will have to determine how much boosters would need to raise to retain the programs, he said.

A final committee was formed to look at issuing requests for proposals to outsource district services such as human resources, maintenance tasks and legal services. For some areas, Good said, the district may decide to go with outside companies; for other areas it has contracted with employees for, such as maintenance, outside cost proposals could help the district's unions set targets for what different services should cost.

"It may allow them to reorganize their work to be more efficient," Good said.

The key is to realize that whatever the district comes up with, the programs will look vastly different next year because even if the levy is approved, the district will still have to cover a multimillion-dollar budget gap.

"We've been very clear in stating things will come back in a reconfigured way. We've been planning for a more sustainable route," Good said. "There's no intent to go back to the traditional, or the former way of doing those programs."

Jon Walden, a member of the committee on magnet schools, said the large-scale changes coming to the program left many parents upset and worried, but, he said, the district did an excellent job of involving community members in the process.

"Any time there's change, I think people are nervous about change and how it's going to impact them," Walden said. "The district did a good job of listening and understanding that you can only do so much so fast."

The biggest advantage to the committee, Walden said, is that it allowed the district to look at the positives of the magnet program and see how those could be made more accessible to elementary students.

"Sometimes you find through a negative, of the levy failing, it's the impetus to look at other things," Walden said. "(The magnet schools) serve as good models. How can we take that and move it?"

District officials also were pleased by the work the volunteer committees performed, Good said, and will look to continue the process as the district searches for ways to operate more efficiently.

"It worked so well that I believe we're going to use the community committee progress with the re-imagining of the K-5 system as we move toward a sustainable system where we have zones of elementaries," Good said. "We're looking for a new way of doing business."