Whitehall City Schools' revised five-year forecast shows more optimism than previously projections.

Whitehall City Schools' revised five-year forecast shows more optimism than previously projections.

District treasurer Tim Penton told the school board May 10 that the district should be able to avoid a negative balance for another three years.

In the fall 2011 forecast, Penton showed that Whitehall City Schools would end fiscal year 2012 with a deficit of $1.4 million, having to dip into its savings just to maintain existing programs. The 2012 fiscal year ends June 30.

State law mandates that school districts submit a five-year forecast twice a year, in May and again in October. The document looks at a district's finances in detail over a five-year period.

"We are not quite as far negative as we thought," Penton told board members May 10. "That's very good for us."

Although the district will end fiscal year 2012 in deficit spending, Penton said, the district will retain a positive fund balance of about $13.7 million, allowing the district to dip into that savings before having to return to voters for a tax increase.

The school district hasn't asked voters for more operating dollars since 1995, when a 13-mill levy request was approved. District officials promised taxpayers at that time that they would not return for another levy increase for at least 10 years.

That was 17 years ago.

The district also made a more recent pledge to voters in Whitehall to avoid asking for any type of tax increase until after the district's five new school buildings were completed.

In November 2008, voters approved a 6.87-mill bond issue with an overwhelming 65 percent to launch the $78 million construction project. Whitehall residents are paying for 39 percent of the project to rebuild all five schools in the district, and the state is funding the other 61 percent.

"We have held good on that commitment ... that promise," Penton said, referring to the district's pledge not to return to voters for operating money until the new schools are built.

Penton credited at least some of the savings on a salary freeze agreed upon by teachers and classified staff for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Cuts in staff, all of which have been through attrition at this point, also have contributed, he said.

"As you recall, we made significant adjustments this past year," he reminded board members, "to the tune of almost $2 million."

An additional drop in revenues came as a result of a loss in American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds, a drop in state funds and a decrease in interest earnings, with all affecting upcoming budgets significantly, Penton said.

He said he expects a total drop of $1.5 million in revenues next year.

When all is said and done, Penton anticipates that the district would end the fiscal year with expenses outpacing revenues by $644,000. That figure likely will rise to $2.6 million next year and $3.26 million at the end of FY 2014, he said.

By 2016, the district is expected to deplete its savings and would enter a negative balance for the first time in two decades.

"It's our beginning look at what is happening here," Penton said of his forecast. "We will work in the months ahead to finalize what the budget will look like."

In January, Penton announced his retirement from Whitehall schools after nearly 13 years with the district. He will remain with the district until October.

School board members on May 22 announced that Steve McAfee, treasurer of Logan-Elm Local Schools in Circleville, would become treasure, effective Aug. 13 (See related story).