The Johnstown Monroe school district is in an enviable position, according to its treasurer, Tamara Woods.

The Johnstown Monroe school district is in an enviable position, according to its treasurer, Tamara Woods.

“We’re one of those blessed districts,” she said, because, unlike many other districts, it has some time to “wait and plan” before it needs to return to the voters for another levy.

So says her five-year financial forecast, which Woods presented to the school board during its Oct. 17 meeting. The board approved the financial forecast 5-0.

Woods said the district is fortunate to have passed a 9.6-mill emergency levy in May 2009, “when it could help the district.” She said the levy generates $2.2 million per year in revenue, along with a 1-percent income tax that generates roughly $2.1 million.

Both levies expire at the end of 2013, however, so while the district is currently holding its own financially, board members will have to consider a levy in the not-too-distant future.

Woods said the district will have three attempts to renew the income tax and two attempts to renew the emergency levy. When these will appear on the ballot is yet to be determined.

The district currently has five levies on the books, Woods said, but some of them, which were approved many years ago, generate very little revenue.

While the district may be solvent, it’s not on Easy Street.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’ve cut some things,” Woods said. To control spending, the board cut busing for students who live within a two-mile radius of their schools. Woods said many people don’t realize that the state does not require any school district in Ohio to transport these students.

The district also cut back coaching positions, she said. And many high school classes — such as some languages and health, as well as elementary school art — are taught online to save teaching positions.

“There’s been a lot of things cut,” Woods said.

State funding will determine the millage the district will need when it comes back to the voters, Woods said. She’s still waiting to know how much the state will provide the district, which makes it nearly impossible to plan very far into the future.

In fact, she said the state is telling districts not to plan their budgets too far ahead of 2013 because of all the uncertainties associated with state funding.

Woods said the district’s main challenge is growth.

“We’re a growing district,” she said. “We need buildings. That will be our next big challenge.” Woods said it’s tough to invest money in repairing or upgrading old buildings when the district clearly needs new structures.

Board vice president Karen Blair agrees that enrollment growth and new facilities are an ongoing concern for the district. But “there really aren’t a whole lot of options,” she said, for funding new buildings.

Blair said state budget cuts have made it hard enough for school districts simply to keep their heads above water financially, let alone undertake a building program. State budget cuts force the communities to take more responsibility for upgrading facilities.

“You almost wait for the other shoe to drop,” said board member Polly Moore. She agreed with Woods that the district is blessed that it’s currently financiallyy stable because so many other districts are experiencing problems. But, she said the state could change its funding at any time and leave Johnstown-Monroe in a bind.

Moore also agrees that upgrading facilities is the district’s biggest challenge currently. But, passing a bond issue is likely the only way to make it happen. She said public fundraisers can help fund levy campaigns but it would take “a heck of a bake sale” to raise enough for a new building.

She said there will be a point where building new structures will no longer be an option as the student population increases, but there will always be differing opinions as to where that point is.

“It’s a tough equation,” she said. If the district presents the voters with a detailed plan of the structures it needs, there will be those who won’t vote to approve a bond issue because they don’t agree with some part of the plan. However, if the district asks the voters to approve a bond issue first, then work together to create a plan, voters will wonder what it is that they’re really voting for.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Moore said.