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APS board grateful for levy passage

11/29/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

There were legions of people to thank following the Nov. 6 passage of the Akron Public Schools (APS) District’s levy. Board of Education members and Superintendent David James expressed their thanks at the Nov. 26 board meeting to voters, staff and the many volunteers who worked to make the levy passage possible.

Board President Jason Haas said he was “humbled” to see the support of “a lot of people working behind the scenes” who helped the levy receive nearly 60 percent voter approval.

The board then approved a revised five-year financial forecast presented by APS Treasurer Jack Pierson. The revised document reflects the addition of the $19 million in additional annual revenue that the levy will produce.

Even though the levy passed, however, the district still will need to make major cuts, said Pierson. With increased expenses and decreased revenues, the district has had to deficit-spend the past two years, he said, despite large budget reductions.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has not yet made public his planned overhaul of state school financing, but APS officials are not expecting support to increase.

In addition, APS enrollment is decreasing each year. Pierson said he projected a decline of 350 students each year for the next five years. Fewer students means less state funding.

Pierson has projected a cash balance at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013 of $6.7 million. But this is a “drop in the bucket” in the district’s nearly $300 million overall budget, he said. The district will be in the red by FY 2015, he said, without more cuts.

The increased expenses come mostly in two areas, he said, with the first being employee benefits, especially insurance, which health care consultants have predicted will increase by 16 percent in FY 2015, 7 percent in FY 2016 and 9.5 percent in FY 2017.

The second area of drastic cost increases is purchased services, he said, especially paying tuition for APS students to go to other school districts. Students who leave the district take the state funding with them.

This year, open enrollment, charter/community schools and Ed Choice vouchers (for students in APS schools that have ranked in Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two out of the previous three years) combined will cost the APS $40 million, Pierson said.

The district needs to cut more from its budget, because the deficit will continue to get larger without more reductions beyond the major ones the school board already made in the past two years, he said.

“The greater the reductions now, the better financial picture later on,” he said.

It’s hard to know how much will need to be cut because that financial picture keeps changing, he said.

The five-year forecast is “a wonderful tool for planning,” said Haas, but financial stability is “a moving target,” especially as it concerns state funding. “Educational funding in Ohio is a political football.”

In other business, the board unanimously approved a resolution opposing the “sequestration of federal education funding.” This is a message to Congress to take action to prevent going over the “fiscal cliff” before Dec. 31.

If Congress does not work out an agreement, Ohio would lose 8 percent of its federal aid, and this loss would trickle down to the school districts, Haas said, much of it impacting disadvantaged and special-needs students.

He urged Congress to “stave off these devastating cuts” and to protect education as an investment in American stability.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway in Downtown Akron.

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