The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is expected to hasten a multimillion-dollar budget deficit for Reynoldsburg City Schools.

The district faces a nearly $6.5 million gap between revenues and expenditures next year, according to a five-year forecast unanimously approved by the school board May 19.

That amount is projected to balloon to $17.89 million by fiscal 2024.

Although Reynoldsburg anticipated deficit spending in 2021, the previous five-year forecast, approved in December, showed only a $2.3 million shortfall.

Required by law to be submitted to the Ohio Department of Education twice annually, forecasts are approved in the spring and fall.

"We were expecting to start having gaps anyway, based on the fact it's been 10 years since we've passed an operating levy," said Tammy Miller, treasurer.

Coronavirus has "put more pressure on our forecast," Miller said.

Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this month announced $300 million in cuts to the state's K-12 public school districts for fiscal 2020, which ends June 30.

Estimates from the Ohio Office of Budget and Management show the district stands to lose $848,563 from its budget ending June 30, officials said.

Miller included an estimated 5.4% cut in state funding in fiscal 2021, although she cautioned that the district "has not received any information as to what a cut might look like next year."

Nearly half of the district's funding comes from the state.

This year the district received about $39 million, but that amount is forecast to fall to $36.9 million next year.

The district's five-year financial forecast that Miller compiled projects the following:

* $81.15 million in revenues and $80.82 million in expenditures in fiscal 2020

* $77.74 million in revenues and $84.24 million in expenditures in fiscal 2021 ($6.5 million deficit)

* $77.35 million in revenues and $87.18 million in expenditures in fiscal 2022 ($9.83 million deficit)

* $77.33 million in revenues and $91.23 million in expenditures in fiscal 2023 ($13.9 million deficit)

* $77.32 million in revenues and $95.21 million in expenditures in fiscal 2024 ($17.89 million deficit)

The forecast also anticipates a 10% decline in income-tax collections next year and another 5% in fiscal 2022, similar to what the district suffered during the Great Recession, Miller said.

The Great Recession lasted 18 months and ended in June 2009.

Income-tax collections accounted for about $6 million in fiscal 2020 and are projected to fall to $5.1 million by fiscal 2022.

Property-tax revenue -- about 29% of district funding -- also is expected to dip, Miller said.

The new forecast has been "turned upside down," said Debbie Dunlap, board president.

"We're going to have some really difficult decisions to make as a district," she said. "Our No. 1 priority will be our students."

Paying salaries and benefits accounts for about 71% of the district's budget. Purchased services and capital outlay -- money to cover items such as building repair and maintenance -- account for the next two largest budget categories.

In recent years, the district has worked to build a cash reserve to better plan for large purchases like technology and buying new school buses.

Reynoldsburg is projected to have about $37.8 in unencumbered cash reserves in fiscal 2021, but Miller cautioned that without new revenue sources, that reserve will deplete "rapidly" and be gone by fiscal 2024.

Officials are reviewing the budget for next year, with an eye toward cost savings.

"Everything's on the table at this point," Miller said. "We had such a healthy cash balance, so we have time as we go through the budget reductions to make as wise a choice as we can."

The next board meeting is 6 p.m. June 16 at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews