The Delaware City School District will seek an emergency levy in the fall to ward off looming deficit woes that could necessitate fee hikes and staff cuts.

The district's school board June 19 voted unanimously to put a five-year, 8.35-mill emergency levy on the Nov. 7 ballot.

According to a performance audit released by the state auditor's office in late May, the district is faced with a $3.6 million deficit in fiscal year 2019, which would grow to an $18 million deficit by fiscal year 2021 without expense cuts or new revenue.

The new levy would bring in $6.2 million annually for the district. Homeowners would pay an additional $288 annually per $100,000 in property value if the levy passes.

Superintendent Paul Craft said Ohio's cap on funding to districts in wealthy, growing areas, which costs Delaware schools about $7 million per year, is driving the need for the levy.

"This is not a spending problem," he said. " ... It's because we're not receiving the amount we should be from the state of Ohio."

Craft said the cap leads the district to spend less money per pupil than the state average, which was about $11,200 in 2015-16. Delaware schools spent about $9,700 per student that year -- the lowest among Delaware County school districts.

The performance audit outlined a raft of potential cuts and other cost-saving measures to reduce the projected deficit. The proposed solutions include axing programs, freezing salaries, laying off three dozen employees and raising fees and ticket prices for athletics.

Craft said the levy's failure would lead the school board to make tough decisions that likely would change the face of the district.

"To maintain where we are right now, we need this levy," he said.

Along with cutting staff and increasing fees, the audit report states "the closure or repurposing of Willis (Education Center) would result in annual cost savings or cost recovery of approximately $363,700."

Craft said the district already expects to save about $200,000 annually by renting out space in the building and reducing custodial work at the site. He said he does not expect to close the building, which the district uses for administrative offices and alternative-education programs.

Craft said Delaware residents have supported the adaptive reuse of the historic structure, which previously housed high schoolers and, more recently, intermediate students.

"That was a real concern in the community that this building would sit vacant," he said.

Craft said district officials also hope to avoid raising fees for athletics.

"As soon as you do that, you start cutting out the ability (of some) kids to participate," he said.

Craft said he thinks athletic programs and other extracurricular activities can lead to academic improvement that outstrips the district's investment in those programs.

He added pay freezes and staffing cuts are among the changes the district "would have to look at if we aren't able to pass this levy in the fall."

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick