Worthington school district residents could see a levy request on their ballots as soon as November 2018.

In fact, it could be a triple request: an operating levy, permanent-improvements levy and a bond issue, said Jeff McCuen, Worthington City Schools treasurer.

Last month, McCuen presented an update to October's five-year financial forecast. Ohio law requires school boards to approve a five-year forecast prior to Oct. 31 and update it between April 1 and May 31 each year.

Total revenue by the end of the month is estimated at $133.7 million, with total expenditures at $125 million, according to the updated forecast.

Next year, however, expenditures are projected to exceed revenue by $379,958. That figure increases each year until the gap between revenue and expenses is $11.8 million in 2020.

"So it is time to begin looking at an operating levy," McCuen said.

"On the positive side are the cash balances and the budget reserves we've established."

For example, the forecast included a projected unreserved-fund balance of $64,134,336 by the end of June and $59,464,666 by the end of fiscal 2018. Those figures did not include budget-reserve amounts of about $24.9 million in June and $29.2 million in 2018.

He said the budget reserves were set aside when the district received additional tangible personal-property-tax dollars after voters approved a levy and bond in 2012.

The incremental levy was applied at 4.9 mills in 2013, 5.9 mills in 2014 and 6.9 mills in 2015 and beyond, while the bond was expected to raise $40 million over five years to pay for new buses, technology upgrades and improvements to district property. Meanwhile, the state has phased out tangible personal-property-tax collections.

"If we go on the ballot in November of 2018, the levy would have lasted six years and we could put a smaller-size levy on the ballot if we use the budget reserves," McCuen said.

The size of any tax issue is yet to be determined and school board members might decide to wait until the fall of 2019 for a levy request, he said.

"We also have to determine if we want to do an operating levy, a bond issue and a permanent-improvement tax issue together -- or if two or three levies at the same time is too much," he said.

Facility concerns

Aging buildings are the reason district leaders anticipate asking voters for more than just operating expenses.

A recent facilities study determined the district should renovate or replace at least seven school buildings.

The fix could be costly, however: well above $200 million, according to estimates presented at public forums during the spring.

DeJong Richter, an educational-planning firm, has been working on a master facilities plan with a facility task force since last fall.

"Right now, we are in a waiting mode," McCuen said. "We will be taking a look at the task-force recommendations before coming up with any definite numbers."

Those recommendations could include a permanent-improvements levy and/or a bond issue, he said, as ways to pay for extensive capital improvements.

The task force is expected to present an update at the June 12 school board meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Worthington Education Center, 200 E. Wilson Bridge Road.

For operating expenses, however, school leaders could start by asking for a smaller amount, McCuen said.

He said an incremental operating levy on the 2018 ballot could begin at 2.9 mills then gradually increase millage each year to 4.9 and 6.9 mills.

"Collection for the levy could begin in January 2019," McCuen said.

"We would still be spending more than we are taking in, but the deficit could be taken out of the budget reserve -- so we would be spending down the budget reserve responsibly."

He said expenditures rise as student enrollment rises.

Enrollment for the 2016-17 school year was 9,848 students in kindergarten through grade 12, according to the five-year forecast.

"We remain on the cap as far as state funding, which is a challenge to us," he said.

"We've added more than 800 students in the last five years and anticipate another 800 in the next five years. Because of the cap (in state foundation funds), the state of Ohio provides us no additional resources to educate those students."

He said the forecast anticipates adding 21 staff members over the next five years to support projected enrollment growth.

School board Vice President Sam Shim said he was pleased the district was able to stretch the 2012 levy funds.

"We thought we would be back on the ballot in 2015," he said. "I look at these numbers and I'm pretty happy with the situation."