The Columbus Board of Education last week had its first glimpse of the potential cost of an expected November operating levy.

The Columbus Board of Education last week had its first glimpse of the potential cost of an expected November operating levy.

At the May 20 board meeting, treasurer Michael Kinneer revealed the district will need at least an 8.3-mill operating levy to keep from going into the red in 2013. Annually, this would cost about $254 per $100,000 of property value.

Kinneer said the figure was only a starting point for a larger discussion, in which the actual millage amount could rise or fall depending on what the board determines to be necessary.

He said his estimate assumed the district would continue to operate in a similar manner and did not take into account Superintendent Gene Harris' recently announced plan to reconfigure grades.

According to Kinneer's report, an 8.3-mill levy would bring in $82-million annually. He said unless something is done by 2013, the district would be in the hole about $369-million.

Board President Terry Boyd said if the district undertakes a new configuration of grades, some items will be cut from the budget.

"It's not as simple as saying we are going to add, add, add," Boyd said. "There is a process of subtraction, and so I wouldn't want anybody to walk away from the table thinking that 8.3 (mills) is what we really have to have because we don't know at this time."

Kinneer presented the price tag after officials discussed the district's expected 2008-09 budget and a five-year financial plan.

Next year's budget was presented by budget director Robyn Essman. It is expected to be voted on next month.

According to Essman's report, the district is expected to have a general fund budget of slightly more than $667-million, which pays most of the district's operating expenses such as salaries, benefits and utilities.

Next year's budget does not significantly differ from the current school year's budget, Essman said -- at least financially -- but there are differences in how funds have been allocated.

About 56 percent of the district's general fund goes to paying salaries and benefits. Next year's budget calls for the district to spend about $385-million on salaries -- a 4.23 percent increase over this year.

The next largest general fund expenditure is for purchased services at 20 percent.

Essman said the district anticipates spending about $138-million next year, which is an increase of a little under 7.5 percent. She said the increase is primarily due to costs associated with charter, non-public and voucher schools.

The jump in gas prices has also taken a toll on the district. According to the budget, the district expects to spend about $5.6-million on fuel, a 40 percent increase.

"Fuel right now is a very critical piece of everybody's budget," Essman said.

Also revealed last week was the prospect that the district will lose fewer students to the voucher program this year school year than expected.

Last year, about 700 students applied for the program. Current figures show the number is fewer than 500. As a result, the district is expected to lose 1,250 students next year and not the initially anticipated 1,500.

Even with fewer students leaving, the district is expected to eliminate 68 staff positions.