For Reynoldsburg City Schools, much of 2020 will be spent putting the district's new five-year strategic plan into action and preparing for enrollment growth.

Superintendent Melvin Brown often refers to the strategic plan, approved in fall 2019, as the district's "marching orders."

"We will adhere to our strategic plan guidelines to ensure we are making progress," Brown said. "While it will not happen overnight, 2020 will be an important year for us to ensure we continue the great work of the years past."

The plan focuses on four areas:

* Student learning -- Enabling students to take ownership of their learning and achieve their full potential through challenging, engaging and relevant learning experiences.

* Student experience -- Building an inclusive community where students feel safe, supported and engaged.

* Communication -- Promoting a school and community culture that allows all involved to have a voice and remain informed.

* Finance -- Equitably distributing resources to promote instructional programs that will support the district mission.

"Student achievement will always be our top priority," board President Pro-tem Debbie Dunlap said. "For many years, we didn't have that game plan, and now a new strategic plan is that game day plan. Everything that this district does will be put up against that plan.

"It is our roadmap for the next five years and makes sure the entire district is on the same sheet of music."

Brown said one of the biggest challenges in 2020 would be "confronting the financial ramifications of being a growing district that is also a capped district, meaning we do not receive additional funding for new students who move into our district."

Ohio's funding formula calculates how much the state will pay each district, based on enrollment and Reynoldsburg is among several growing districts that are "capped."

School districts cannot limit their enrollment growth, but the state has limited the percentage of additional funding it is willing to give to growing districts.

The formula provides extra money for students in certain categories -- for instance, those who have limited proficiency in English, those who are considered economically disadvantaged and those who are in special-education classes.

However, the state budget for education does not include enough money to cover every district once the per-pupil and category calculations are made. That's when caps are applied.

With Reynoldsburg's current enrollment about 7,750 students, growth is a "great problem" to have because it means people want to move into the district, Dunlap said, but it also requires careful planning.

"One of the things that we will be watching closely is our growing enrollment," she said. "We're getting closer every year to the 8,000 mark and our open-enrollment numbers will continue to fall because our policy gives priority to our residents.

"We definitely know that at one point, we're going to have to make some major shifts or look at a new building," she said.

Treasurer Tammy Miller projects that Reynoldsburg schools will enter deficit spending in fiscal 2021.

By fiscal 2024, Reynoldsburg will face a $12.9 million deficit, according to the district's five-year financial forecast, presented to the board in November.

Miller's forecast also projects state funding -- about $39.7 million, or nearly half of Reynoldsburg's revenue -- will remain flat.

Dunlap said she is "cautiously optimistic" that state lawmakers will find a more equitable funding solution before the "crunch time" of 2024.

"We don't want to get to that point, which is why we are continuously monitoring our finances with the hopes that the state will take a better look at how they fund school districts," Dunlap said. "In 2010, after several failed votes, the community did pass a levy and the district made a promise that it wouldn't come back to voters for four years. We've gone well beyond that and I'm very proud of that."

The new year also will bring with it a new board member. Angela Abram was appointed Dec. 17 to fill the unexpired term of former board president Joe Begeny, who stepped down after being elected as Reynoldsburg's next mayor in November. Abram will serve through Dec. 31, 2021.

Dunlap said she and the three other "veteran" members look forward to getting Abram up to speed at the board's annual retreat in January.