Village Schools

Schools look at fiscal crisis

In order to avoid a projected negative cash balance by the end of the 2013 fiscal year, school board members at their Dec. 9 meeting discussed ways to reduce the district’s 2010–2011 budget. In light of uncertain state funding, increasing expenses and declining tax revenues, the board began to consider options for reducing district expenditures, with many decisions looming in the next few months.

“The work we have between now and March 1 is a vast and tremendous task,” said Superintendent Mario Basora, who identified five potential areas in which cuts could be made. “We have to make tough choices…to make the best decision for kids and ensure the continuation of Yellow Springs schools.”

Among the choices are reductions to the work force, including ways to incentivize early retirement, plus reviewing the current educational services contract, sharing educational services with nearby districts, and offering more online and flexible credit options, according to Basora. Offering career center satellite programming was previously considered but abandoned when it was determined that it may actually increase costs to the district.

School staff and community members can weigh in on potential cuts over the next few weeks in confidential meetings with Basora and at a special meeting on Jan. 19. Basora will also seek input from the Yellow Springs Education Association, or YSEA, and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees.

Basora said the work force would be the last place to cut, but in response to a question from board member Richard Lapedes, he acknowledged that the loss of only two to four employees would be an optimistic outcome.

To encourage early retirement, the district may offer a cash payment to those teachers with more than 30 years of teaching experience who agree to retire in order to hire younger teachers, who are at the lower end of the pay scale, Basora said. According to district projections, the expense of these monetary incentives are recovered by the second year if teachers in their first five years are hired in their place. Basora plans to work on a Memorandum of Understanding, which he hopes to have signed by YSEA by Jan. 20.

The district may consider for the coming school year contracting with the Clark County Educational Service Center, which charges $18,000 per student, far less than the Greene County Educational Service Center, whose quote for next year went up about 5 percent to $30,000 per student. Basora will also explore sharing these services with other districts or Yellow Springs offering the services itself. Although only a few students use the services — which provide gifted, intensive needs education — the savings could be helpful, he said.

In addition, the district is considering the expansion of online and flexible credit options to reduce the number of course sections and thus staff required to teach some classes. For example, some Advanced Placement courses with few students may not be needed. Flexible credit options, in which students create their own education plan, may also be more aggressively advertised, a move that, according to Lapedes, would help students “tap into enormous reservoir of talent in the community that wants to help.”

Board Vice-President Benji Maruyama said the budget cuts should be considered in light of “what is our pain threshold versus what are our pain limits,” while board member Angela Wright urged the district to first consider the program implications of potential reductions.

At the meeting treasurer Dawn Weller presented five-year financial forecasts showing the cash balance by the 2014–15 school year depending upon the amount cut in next school year’s budget. With a $250,000 reduction in the 2010–11 budget, the district would be in the red by 2013 and have a nearly $1.8 million negative cash balance by 2014. A $350,000 cut would still leave the district with a negative balance by 2013 and about $1.3 million in the red by 2014. Reducing by $450,000 would mean the district stays in the black until 2014, when the shortfall will be close to $950,000.

While budget projections take into account a 10 percent cut in state funding for the district over two years, several board members suggested that number may be too conservative. A cut of 20 percent from the state, or about $200,000 per school year for the district, is currently being discussed, Lapedes said.

Weller said that if the school’s two-year budget projections are in the red, the district would come under the state designation of fiscal watch. Lapedes expressed concern that being under fiscal watch may mean the district could be more vulnerable to consolidation.

Weller also reported that $80,426.62 is currently owed to the district in delinquent real estate taxes, according to data received from the Greene County Auditor’s office, which the district could choose to pursue.

In other school board business:

• The board approved the Center for Urban and Public Affairs, or CUPA, as the facilitator of the Class of 2020 initiative, contingent upon private community funding of $17,181 for the project. CUPA will complete a strategic plan for the school district during the 2010–2011 school year, building upon the recent community engagement efforts of consulting firm KnowledgeWorks.

• The board agreed to submit a $1,570 grant to the Yellow Springs Education Endowment at the Yellow Springs Community Foundation for the “No Child Left Inside” initiative. The grant would allow McKinney Middle School and high school students to spend time outside as part of their lunch period by providing for adult supervision, said McKinney/high school Principal Tim Krier. Grant monies would pay for the background checks for 20 adult volunteers and a one-year stipend for a coordinator.

• Basora proposed that the district not accept funds from FAIR, a new private foundation in Greene County that would provide cash and materials to teachers and schools because he said it might undermine efforts to pass school levies. Other board members said the project may have a political agenda and private funding could be raised locally to support district teachers.

• Mills Lawn principal Matt Housch reported that $33,200 in funding received from the Dayton STEM institute was spent on instruction and technology, including an iPod touch lab that will be given to one classroom in the district following a proposal evaluation process.

• Board members expressed appreciation for teacher Kevin O’Brien, who will retire Jan. 14, 2011, after 33 years in the district. O’Brien was recognized nationally numerous times and helped develop state curriculum for physical education and health, Basora said.

• Kristin Adkins was advanced to level three of the teacher’s salary schedule, effective with the second semester of this school year, having completed the hours required with a masters degree at Antioch University Midwest.

• The board accepted the resignations of boys’ basketball coaches Greg Felder and Jason Shea, and volunteer sports site manager Roberta Perry. Perry will now be paid $1,070.56 for the remaining sport seasons from the current budget. The board also approved Kelly Stephens as a substitute secretary and substitute aide at $10 per hour for the current school year.

• The board authorized the amounts and rates of the necessary tax levies and certified them to the Greene County Auditor for 2011 as 2.50 mills and $301,000 for the bond retirement levy and 8.40 mills and $1,055,663 for the emergency levy.

• The treasurer and superintendent were authorized by the board to employ the services of lawyer John Podgurski.

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