The Columbus Board of Education got some qualified good news on the financial front last night, and members say they are ready to proceed with the search for a new superintendent.
Alison Holm has more.
Six months ago, school district treasurer Stan Bahorek told the school board that on its current path, the district would be $224 million dollars in the red by the end of the 2021-2022 school year. But thanks to a voter approved levy – and over $18 million in cuts – the new five-year forecast shows the district arriving at the same point with $4.7 million dollars in the bank. But Bahorek cautions that number doesn’t mean much in what may become a one billion dollar budget.
“To put this in perspective, $5 million is 1.6 days, or 39 hours. I would describe it as going home on Friday evening, and before you head to church on Sunday, you’re out of money.”
The dark shadow over the district’s financial picture is the state’s funding cap on dollars flowing to the district. Last summer’s state budget slowed the increase in funds to Columbus to only 4%, instead of the 7.5% the district had anticipated, a reduction of $166 million dollars though June 2019. Bahorek’s current projection anticipates the state will hold that rate at 4%, but he warned board members that if the state cut that rate to 2% in the next biennial budget, the district would be $38 million in the red by 2022. Board member Dominic Paretti, who is a legislative aide to statehouse Democrats, says district officials, unions, and the public need to become more vocal to ward off deeper cuts at the state level.
“I’ve been at the Statehouse for 10 years now. I have never seen the Finance Committee completely packed with folks… complaining about the school funding formula. I’m looking to work with our folks at CEA and OAPSE and everyone else to see a sea of red in that Finance Committee room so that they hear what’s going on. And maybe they won’t give such a large income tax break to folks in the state of Ohio; maybe they’ll think of public education more. This is six years of Kasich tax cuts. We need to be loud about this.”
But even with the slightly better forecast, the district is still looking at significant cuts in the short term. The process of identifying ways to trim the budget was overshadowed earlier this year by suggestions that board members had manipulated the search for a new superintendent, meeting in private to narrow the list of candidates. That search was scuttled in March, with the promise of a new search to find a superintendent possibly by Septmeber. After two days of contentious discussion, the board Tuesday unanimously approved hiring a mediator to work with the district on the new search. William Froehlich is a dispute resolution specialist with OSU’s Mortiz College of Law.
With the new mediator in place and the assistance of the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, the search for a superintendent can continue, and the focus return to finding budget cuts for the next fiscal year.