DELTA – Revenues have badly diminished, the budget has been cut to the bone, and staff members struggle to do more with less.
So on May 6, the Pike-Delta-York school district will ask voters to approve a 7.62-mill renewal operating levy that includes an increase, which should allow for a positive cash balance through Fiscal Year 2018.
Without continued support of the property tax, the district would likely have to initiate a new round of potentially devastating cuts, treasurer Eric Soltis said.
“We are very lean. We are trying to make the most of what we have,” he said. “But if this levy doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to reevaluate the (district’s) financial position.”
The renewed property tax calls for a 1.98-mill increase from the original levy passed in November 2012, or an additional $320,000 annually. The increase would raise the revenue from $909,937 to $1.22 million per year, costing the owner of a $150,000 home $103.95 per year, or nine cents daily.
The levy would also expand from three to five years. The school district will receive its last funding from the current levy in August.
Soltis said P-D-Y is attempting to maintain 30 to 60 “true days” cash – available money that, under dire financial straits, allows operations to continue for one or two months – as suggested by an Ohio Department of Education financial expert who visited the district in March 2013.
Soltis said the school district has been forced to minimize the effects of deficit spending, and that budget cuts are no longer sustainable.
“If you take away from one thing to add to another, the initial area struggles. We’re trying our best to maintain the staff at a reasonable level. But we’re doing more with less, basically,” he said.
The P-D-Y school board is requesting the levy renewal to also meet several other goals, including reducing deficit spending, maintaining a positive cash balance through Fiscal Year 2018, and meeting educational standards the community expects.
The school district initially considered placing a levy totaling upwards of 10 mills on the ballot last November. The school board decided against that action in July when the state unexpectedly announced the district would receive an additional $880,000 over fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
“We didn’t know until then whether the state was going to support us,” Soltis said.
However, that financial boost wasn’t enough to eliminate deficit spending, he added.
The last time the school district was forced to make massive cuts was at the end of the 2012 school year. Fortunately, Soltis said, some of the staffing cuts were made possible through attrition.
Failure to support the levy renewal would be a significant blow to the school district, Soltis said. It could mean more teacher and staff cuts.
“You’d have to look at how you would make that up. We’d most likely have to look at how we could save,” he said.
Previous cuts already have placed more responsibility and a greater workload on the district’s employees, Soltis added. Additional paring would probably result in more students per classroom.
Superintendent Jay LeFevre said P-D-Y schools are somewhat on the road to recovery, but administrators are attempting to return the district to a position where quality is not at risk.
“’Urgent’ is a good word to describe our situation,” he said. “We’ve pretty much exhausted cuts. We’re trying to be fiscally responsible, but we don’t want to shortchange our efforts to reach our goals. We’re trying to provide the kind of district the community can be proud of.”
LeFevre said while the school district is not trying to frighten community members or come across as threatening, the danger of even sharper budget cuts is a reality if the levy fails at the ballot.
“We would have to start getting deeper into programs, and teacher-student ratios would be elevated.,” he said. “We’ve gone from double to single routes for buses to save money. We’ve tried all the innovative strategies.”
In an email response, Chad Hoffman, P-D-Y school board president, said because the operational funds from the current property tax expire in February 2015, “the need is very real… The truth is that in order to continue to do excellent things inside and outside of the classroom and maintain high-quality standards of education for our community, the additional funds generated from this levy are essential.”
Hoffman said should the renewal levy fail the district would be forced to examine cuts in class offerings, school services, staffing, and busing. It would also have to consider pay-to-play terms for extracurricular activities.
“These kind of changes/reductions can only negatively impact the district as we have made many changes over the past four to five years,” he said.
Should the levy fail in May, the school district could reintroduce it on the August and/or November ballot, the latter being the final opportunity.