Despite budget cuts and a 5.9-mill operating levy voters passed earlier this year, the Oregon school board has projected a $1,905,509 deficit at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
The district has cut close to $4 million from its operating budget in the past two years, but is still fighting an uphill battle due to the annual loss of almost $10 million in revenue, or 25 percent of its funding, due to House Bill 66, according to Jeff Ziviski, vice president of the school board, which met last Monday.
House Bill 66 went into effect in June, 2006. The bill phases out tax on tangible personal property of general businesses, telephone and telecommunications companies and railroads.
In 2006, tangible personal property tax made up 22.5 percent of the district’s revenue. In 2008, it dropped to 12.5 percent. In 2012, it will disappear.
Out of over 600 public school districts in Ohio, Oregon schools ranked 60th as to the negative impact of House Bill 66, said Ziviski.
“We have tried to be as financially prudent as possible, and reduce our costs in a responsible manner without dismantling the current education process we have in place,” said Ziviski, “but with the loss of revenue from the state, we are having trouble closing the gap.”
The board, said Ziviski, is considering placing an operating levy on the ballot next year as a result.
“We are in the process of reviewing our options,” said Ziviski. The board plans to meet several times in January and February to discuss it further.
The district has reduced several teaching, maintenance and administrative positions over the past two years to keep operating expenses down. “We are looking at every opportunity to become more efficient and to consolidate positions when a vacancy becomes open, and we have been very successful in doing this,” said Ziviski.
The district is currently undergoing a performance audit by the Ohio State Auditor’s office, according to Superintendent Mike Zalar.
A final report will be issued in January or February.
Results of the audit will help determine if a levy is needed, said Zalar.
“It will include recommendations for our district. They won’t be binding. We’re not required to do any or all of them,” said Zalar. “We will consider their assessment. I’m sure it’s going to include recommendations to enhance our revenue of some sort, and that would be in the form of a levy. We have been making cuts in the last several years, deep cuts in the last two years. Our five year forecast shows our revenue will continue to decline, and our expenses increasing.”
“We are hopeful that the performance audit will help us analyze different areas where additional cost savings can be realized,” said Ziviski. “It is a good, reliable, and independent review that we can use moving forward to become more efficient with our processes and save costs.”
Ziviski said the state legislature has failed to rectify public school funding methods, which the Ohio Supreme Court called unconstitutional and unfair in the DeRolph school funding case of 1997. As a result, public schools continue to place levies on the ballots.
“What we need is our state legislators and governor to make good on their promises to fix Ohio’s school funding problem – one that would relieve the burden from the property owner,” said Ziviski.
The 5.9 mill levy passed last March will generate $3,516,813 for a full year beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. Only half of that amount will be collected in the 2008-2009 school year.
The district’s budget totals $39,432,656 for the 2007-2008 school year. Real estate taxes make up 42 percent of the budget. Every six years, all real property within the district is subject to an appraisal, or “re-evaluation,” which was done in 2006.
“In spite of the projected growths in property valuations, the related income from the levies does not rise significantly,” said Ziviski. “The only growth on local real estate taxes comes from inside millage, which for Oregon schools is 6 mills. The remaining voted mills are reduced so that the district collects only the amount of money originally voted by the taxpayers.”
Also at the meeting, the board discussed how to use revenue from the 2-mill permanent improvement levy that was passed in November.
The funds can be used for technology, band equipment, textbooks, vehicles and bus purchases, and normal maintenance for the buildings.
A permanent improvement levy committee, led by Dean Sandwisch, business manager for the district, will draft a budget for the revenue and make recommendations for allocations to specific departments.
“Some of the allocations have not been reviewed in several years, so we want to have some current information and establish new amounts,” said Ziviski.
Some of the funds will be used to install security cameras at the middle schools, he said.
“What is unique about this project is that about 30 percent is being funded by a grant. This project has been in discussion for quite some time, but we have been holding off on it because we knew there was a good chance that grant money would be available. This is just one example of what the district is doing to be financially prudent and making the most out of levy dollars.
Plans call for the cameras to be installed over the holidays.