Columbus City Schools officials are keeping a watchful eye on the state biennial budget process, which could result in significant shortfalls in funding to the district.

HB 49 has already passed the Ohio House and is before the Ohio Senate finance committee. A Senate vote is expected later this month.

The proposal includes a zero-percent cap on funds allotted to the district -- resulting in a $185 million decrease by fiscal year 2021, according to projections, district Treasurer Stan Bahorek said.

The legislature is looking to trim $800 million from the two-year budget because of lagging tax receipts, Gov. John Kasich has said.

That's why some legislators have called for the zero-percent funding cap for CCS, which puts the district at a serious financial disadvantage, he said.

Updated details about public-schools caps were expected this week, but Columbus schools still are expected to lose money because of the state's budgetary hole, district spokesman Scott Varner said.

The state's complicated funding formula sets out a per-pupil cost, which can vary because of several factors, including special needs, and takes into consideration other issues, such as district enrollment and district wealth, Bahorek said.

But the calculated state funding is very different from actual dollar figures, which could be capped in the budget.

CCS, which has an enrollment of 51,500 students, has used a 7.5 percent funding increase cap -- which has been applied to all public school districts -- in its future two-year funding forecasts, Bahorek said.

Two issues are at play: what the district should receive under the state's calculations and what it has received based on the cap, he said.

In raw dollar figures, the district would have received, based on the state's calculations, $300 million in 2014, slightly more than $350 million in 2015, about $380 million in 2016 and $390 million this fiscal year, Bahorek said.

Instead, CCS received $250 million in 2014, about $280 million in 2015, roughly $295 million in 2016 and $319 million this year.

That has resulted in a net loss of $302 million, based on the state's calculations, Bahorek said.

"For my projections, from a revenue standpoint, the driving factor isn't necessarily the calculation; it's how much the cap will increase from year to year," he said.

The funding mechanism is unfair in that, most glaringly, districts that are losing students don't lose money, but CCS, which has seen enrollment increase about 2 percent each of the past two years, does, Bahorek said.

That could affect the board's negotiations with the Columbus Education Association, the union representing about 4,100 employees.

The current two-year contract expires in July. The two sides have been negotiating in good faith, said Gary Baker II, Columbus Board of Education president.

Baker said he also worries that any funding cuts will erase gains the district has made in areas such as graduation rate, which is now at 80 percent.

Also distressing is that the district administration is mulling cuts after successfully approving a 6.92-mill operating levy last year, he said.

A portion of the levy, which generates about $50 million annually, is earmarked for operating and staffing expenses, Baker said.

"In light of what we fear might come out of the Statehouse, the administration is putting together reductions," Baker said.

The budget bill must clear both chambers by June 30.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary