Westerville News & Public Opinion

School notes

District is on solid financial footing despite state maneuvers

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Last December, Westerville Board of Education members and representatives from the district's Leadership Team met at our Early Learning Center for the board's annual year-end retreat. Newly elected board members also participated in the retreat, a summary of which is available in the News Archives section of our website at wcsoh.org.

One of the takeaways from the retreat's several presentations should be welcome news to residents. The Westerville City School District remains on solid financial ground. Furthermore, district leaders remain committed to operating within the parameters of the current five-year financial forecast and maintaining our current practice of seeking additional cost-saving efficiencies.

The state of Ohio's latest biennial budget, which went into effect July 1, 2013, included several changes to the formulas used to calculate public education funding. However, our ongoing efforts to manage within our resources have allowed us to minimize the impact of these changes.

For example, the new state funding formula uses a base per-pupil allocation amount of $5,745. But, because we are considered a "high wealth" district due to our property and income wealth, the state's new formula provides us with only 37.55 percent of the base per-pupil amount, or $2,157.

In the eyes of the state, the district and its residents should be responsible for providing the other 65 percent of the base per-pupil allocation through local taxes. We do receive some revenue from casino income, which our financial forecast models at approximately $52 per pupil.

Furthermore, there is now a cap on the amount of additional state dollars we can receive during the current fiscal year and next fiscal year.

For the current fiscal year, the maximum state funding increase our district could realize was set at 6.25 percent. The cap is set at a maximum 10.5 percent state funding increase for FY15. That means even if the state funding formula called for a 15 percent increase in a district's allocation, we will only receive a 6.25 percent increase and 10 percent increase, respectively.

What does the state funding cap mean to us in terms of actual dollars? For the current school year, the state funding formula indicated that Westerville should receive approximately $42 million dollars. However, because of the cap, we only received $32 million. As a result of the cap, our state funding levels for FY14 are comparable to those of FY09.

Why is it important for residents to understand how state-level changes impact us locally? Because our current financial forecast indicates that WCSD will remain financially solvent through at least fiscal year 2018. This is three years longer than originally anticipated when our community approved the March 2012 emergency operating levy.

However, the fact that the March 2012 emergency levy was not a continuing levy creates the need for our community to have a crucial conversation in just a few years.

The emergency levy will expire and be removed from residents' tax bills at the end of calendar year 2017. If the levy is allowed to expire, our schools would still be able to operate through FY18 but would need to consider returning to the ballot with a new revenue request shortly thereafter.

Allowing the emergency levy to expire in 2017 likely would have a negative financial impact on taxpayers because the latest state budget also eliminated the homestead exemption and property tax rollback provisions. This means the state will no longer pay 12.5 percent of property owners' tax bills on any new levies or other new tax issues approved by voters.

However, the homestead exemption and property tax rollback would apply to any existing tax issues renewed by taxpayers. This means the state would still pay 12.5 percent of the district's emergency levy should residents approve its renewal.

Despite the impact of these changes by the state, please know that we appreciate and are working diligently to protect the financial resources that our community has approved for our schools. We are pleased that the results of our efforts have resulted in the ability to stretch our resources well beyond the original commitment made to taxpayers approximately two years ago.

The School notes column is provided to ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion by John R. Kellogg, Ed.D., superintendent of the Westerville City School District.

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