Worthington Schools Treasurer Jeff McCuen said voters likely would be asked for a combined operating levy and bond issue in November 2018 to pay for operating and facilities needs.

The amount of that tax issue is yet to be determined, however.

"Running one campaign in 2018 would be my recommendation to the school board," he said. "The size of that is open to discussion, but running both at the same time is a better opportunity to tell our whole story to the community."

McCuen presented an update to the five-year financial forecast at the Oct. 9 school board meeting. 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.

Actual revenue for this fiscal year, which ended in June, was $131,996,426, with expenditures at $122,619,608 and cash balance of more than $89 million.

"We had less than a million-dollar change from the forecast in May, so we can consider this forecast more reliable and more certain for the future years," McCuen said.

The five-year forecast covers figures from 2016-17 and estimated revenue and expenditures for years 2018-22.

That "more reliable forecast" shows balances shrinking as expenses exceed revenue by 2019, with $131.5 million in revenue and $137.6 million in expenses.

By 2022, expenses are estimated to exceed revenue by $23.5 million, with a cash-balance deficit of $5.1 million.

McCuen said increasing enrollment is the primary reason for higher expenses. Enrollment increased by 1,000 students over the past five years, with an increase of 800 more predicted in the next five. Total enrollment was 10,201 students this year.

"We've had to build in additional staff member costs into the new forecast," McCuen said.

Add that to the district's facilities dilemma and one sees an increased need for new tax dollars, he said.

A community task force has been studying buildings and crunching numbers since last fall, after an Ohio Facilities Construction Commission report placed a $250 million price tag on the district's facilities needs. The report said a number of aging buildings should be replaced or remodeled.

The task force originally had expected to complete a master plan by September, but that process has taken longer, said district communications director Vicki Gnezda.

"The last meeting of the task force is scheduled for (Oct. 25), so we expect them to present their recommendation to the board in either November or early December," she said.

Although the task force assigned a lower price tag to the facility fix than the OFCC – from $250 million to $160 million to $166 million – it is still a daunting figure, considering the state limits the district's ability to issue bonds, McCuen said.

"We could only issue about $100 million in bonds," he said.

He said the task-force plan would include phases so that immediate needs could be addressed first. The initial phase of the tentative plan was expected to cost $62.6 million to $72.7 million.

However, the amount of the levy needed and the amount of bond money borrowed could not be determined until the task force makes its recommendation, McCuen said.

"I would like to get the treasurer's advisory committee back together after the board has listened to the facility recommendation," he said. "I think the TAC needs all that information to determine the best direction for a tax issue."

Board member Marc Schare said if the new forecast is as accurate as McCuen thinks it is, the district could need up to 11 or 12 mills in new tax revenue.

"A $23.5 million (figure) in deficit spending works out to millage at about 11.5 mills," Schare said.

McCuen said it could take up to 12 mills to cover the deficit.

He said the district last asked voters to approve an incremental tax levy in November 2012. It was applied at 4.9 mills in 2013, 5.9 mills in 2014 and 6.9 mills in 2015 and beyond.

Voters also approved a $40 million bond that year to pay for new buses, technology upgrades and improvements to district property.

Thus far, the state does not allow districts to combine an incremental levy with a bond, McCuen said.

"I am meeting with legislators to see if we could combine the two issues," he said.

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