Reynoldsburg Schools Superintendent Steve Dackin described 2009 as a dichotomy of highlights and challenges.

Reynoldsburg Schools Superintendent Steve Dackin described 2009 as a dichotomy of highlights and challenges.

The highlight of 2009, he said, was the district's "excellent" rating for the second year in the row from the Ohio Department of Education.

"Five out of the last seven years we've been designated as either excellent and/or effective and that is a tribute to high-quality teaching and learning in our district," Dackin said. "It's a minimum standard; we want to continue to raise the bar for our kids.

"It's an accomplishment, and when you couple that with (the fact) we're one of the lowest per-pupil expenditure school districts in our area, I think it says our kids are getting a really quality education at a pretty good discount rate," he said.

Dackin said "the challenge part" came from levy failures in May and November that forced the district to cut millions of dollars from its budget.

He said the district is approaching reductions of $15-million between January 2009 and June 30, 2010; for next year alone, he said, Reynoldsburg schools will have to eliminate between $3-million and $4-million in expenditures.

"That's on top of the $11-million we had to reduce for this year," Dackin said.

"You go from the elation that you feel when your performance is rated as excellent to the harsh reality of having to reduce expenditures that basically take away opportunities for kids," he said. "I see that as a dichotomy and so I see 2009 as kind of a mixed bag for us, in general."

Since the defeat of the November levy, Dackin said he has been working with school principals and labor associations on ways to reduce expenditures next year. No decision has been made on exactly what cuts will be made for the next school year.

"We're not done with our conversations yet with principals and supervisors to talk about recommendations for cuts," he said. "We know at this point most of the cuts will occur at the high school in terms of teacher personnel and then we'll be looking at the K-12 structure and see if there are any other ways we can realize operational efficiencies," he said. "Most of the cuts will come in the way of personnel at the high school, and there will be other cuts K-8, including teachers, administrative, classified -- it's all out there."

Dackin said a list of recommendations for cuts for the next school year should be in place toward the end of January.

Eight positions have already been eliminated, effective Jan. 1. These include two central office positions and six custodial jobs. The Reynoldsburg Board of Education approved cutting five positions at its Dec. 15 meeting. The sixth came from a resignation.

"Those dollars will go into the $4-million cut figure for next year, so we're about $500,000 towards that," Dackin said.

In addition, he said attempts will be made to reduce utility costs and instructional supply costs. He has frozen all building budgets and the only things being purchased out of general fund money are emergency replacement items.

Also, Dackin said contracts for snow removal have been reduced, as have those for outside and inside maintenance.

"We're looking at everything single thing we can do right now to try to mitigate our costs," he said.

Two new schools are currently under construction on Summit Road, but Dackin said the district does not have the money to open them as scheduled in 2012.

"We'll have to look at the prospect of not opening them up and/or closing existing schools if we're not able to get additional revenue," he said.

Considering the district's five-year financial forecast, Dackin said he is surprised that the Ohio Department of Education has not delivered an official notification that the district is under fiscal caution, something he and district treasurer Tammy Miller believe is inevitable.

"We just haven't received the notification that we have that first level of state oversight," he said.

A levy will be needed at some point in the future, Dackin said. A decision on that will be made by the board of education sometime early in 2010.

"We absolutely need a levy," he said. "The system in Ohio, the way we fund schools, is set up in such a manner it requires the local community at some interval to raise revenue. In our case, it's after 13 years of some growth on local revenue but mostly a flat scenario of local revenue. In accordance with the funding system in Ohio, it's due."

Dackin said district officials predict a cash balance at the end of this fiscal year of $732,000. That's about five days worth operating cash, he said, noting that the amount may fluctuate, depending on revenues and expenditures during the course of a year.

He said Miller could revise the district's five-year forecast to reflect variables that might occur before the end of this fiscal year. This could include students who leave the district to attend community or charter schools.

The average cost to the school district if a student leaves to attend a charter or community school is $7,500 per student, he said.

Dackin said he does not anticipate eliminating all sports next year, but what is offered depend on participation. He said he has asked the athletic department to review fees for individual sports and to present a plan by March on how fees can be reduced for next year.

Despite the financial outlook, Dackin remains optimistic.

"I expect we'll pass a levy because while the economy has been very tough, hopefully we'll have better news in terms of general economy ... We'll continue to respond to the taxpayers' wishes," he said. "People will come to realize that this district will continue to ensure that kids learn at high levels. I think, after we make our reductions, we'll make a compelling case that we've done what we need to do to tighten our belts and I think the public will to appreciate the fact we've done what they've asked us to do.

"That's a good message for our community. This community has always supported its schools ... and I'm convinced they will come back and support the schools," he said.