LIMA — Many school budgets from the last fiscal year were affected when education switched to a remote learning model. Getting students back in the classroom safely saw schools purchasing masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant and plastic barriers.
Now comes the harder part for many districts — dealing with the long-term effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is forcing school districts to become leaner, and in some cases, eliminate positions or not fill them when someone retires. It also has districts taking another look at their five-year plans, which try to project revenue and expenses five years from now.
“We had an immediate reduction in our state foundation’s final two payments of fiscal year 2020,” said Mandy France, Perry schools treasurer. “As we begin the fiscal year state foundation budget cycle for 2021, our foundation payments remain at the reduced rate of funding that was enacted in June.”
France anticipates the reduction will continue for at least the entire year.
“We will continue to align our decisions for staffing and expenses,” France said.
The school district did receive some CARES Act funding to help make up the shortfall.
“The district has been the recipient of the ESSER (CARES Act) first phase allocation and we recently were awarded a portion of the additional CRF (Coronavirus Relief Funds). In total, the additional federal support is $205,446.68,” France said.
That money will be used to include technology provisions to support remote learning and related expenses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Lima City Schools started back to school on August 12th, with a blended learning approach, and a full staff of teachers and classified employees,” said Shelly Reiff, Lima schools treasurer.
State funding was decreased, and officials are being careful with spending.
“The CARES Act funding, along with the additional Coronavirus Relief Funds, have covered the required expenditures needed to be compliant in safely bringing the students back to school,” Reiff said. “As with every upcoming fiscal year, the state budget greatly affects our district, with state funding being a large portion of our revenue stream. With that said, our five-year projection is very uncertain at this time.”
Allen East schools
Added expenses dealing with COVID-19 have added to Allen East’s budget, said Andrea Snyder, treasurer of Allen East schools.
“To date, we have spent almost $53,000 on PPE, cleaning supplies and other items necessary to make accommodations for our staff and students related to COVID-19,” Snyder said. “We also have over $10,000 in orders for additional COVID-19 related items.
“Luckily the Coronavirus Relief Fund will help offset a large portion of these initial costs, but we anticipate significantly higher cleaning and supply costs for the next few years.”
Reduced state funding has been helped somewhat by CARES Act funding, said Annette Morman, Bath schools treasurer.
“Our FY 2020 state foundation was reduced by $284,189 and FY 2021 state funding remains at the same reduced level,” Morman said. “The district received $232,360 in ESSER (CARES Act) federal funding and has been allocated $89,206 in Coronavirus Relief federal funding.
“These monies are to be used for increased expenses directly related to COVID-19. Our related expenses include software and equipment to support remote learning, as well as supplies and equipment used to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
Morman says there are concerns for school district finances in the long-term.
“The federal grants are offsetting our COVID-19 costs, and the general fund is not being impacted. The general fund will be impacted if the pandemic continues into 2021. We included the state foundation cuts in our May five-year forecast. We are being conservative in our daily operations and in planning for the future because the situation can change so quickly and there are many unknown variables,” Morman said.
Elida schools received cuts of $480,825 from the state according to Joel Parker, Elida schools treasurer.
“For our district, that’s a material loss of dollars from the state. It creates a pretty big hole that you’re trying to fill,” Parker said.
Parker called the cuts “historic.”
“I’ve been here since ‘98. We had one other budget reduction order that was maybe like $130,000. This one is was quite large in comparison. So from a historic perspective it just it doesn’t happen very often where you’re cutting midstream when you’re budgeting for certain things to happen. That’s a lot to digest in the last two months of the fiscal year,” Parker said.
Parker says the cuts are difficult to absorb since they’re a capped district.
“I’m not sure the average person fully understands when we say that, what that means. I think for our district, we’ve probably lost somewhere close to $5 million over the last five years for being a capped district. When the state looks at our student population and tax base, they can kind of calculate what we should get in state aid. But then when we get something less, and that’s normally what happens. Say we’re supposed to get $10 million, but they only have enough to give us $9 million, then we’re capped,” Parker said.
Elida schools was forced to make some personnel cuts going into the new school year.
“At our June board meeting, we did have an action where we’ve made some adjustments — basically looking at some eight positions. There were a couple of teaching positions we didn’t fill. We looked at a couple of custodian positions. You know, we were reviewing supplemental. We’re trying to make adjustments knowing that there could be another round of state cuts coming in,” Parker said.
School districts receive a cut of casino revenue, and that could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
“I think the other piece of a financial picture for us would be, do we lose half of our casino money? Do we lose half of our interest income now because the rates have bottomed out? In our district, tax delinquency can become an issue if the local folks are in an economic position where they can’t pay their taxes, then that delinquency then could be an issue for us. So, you know, I think there’s still a lot of concerns moving forward,” Parker said.
Shawnee schools wasn’t immune to having to tighten things up budget-wise, according to Treasurer Chris Cross.
“Shawnee Local School District state revenue was cut by $477,168 in fiscal year 2020. The same amount of reduction is anticipated in fiscal year 2021. To offset the loss in revenue, the district has made significant cuts including eliminating and/or reducing teaching and staff positions,” Cross said.
Wapakoneta schools saw a decrease in funding in April and May of close to $550,000, according to Superintendent Aaron Rex.
“That spring we were able to actually save dollars due a reduction in expenses with school being closed. With not having to provide busing, reductions in utilities, substitute teachers and more, we saw substantial savings. We were also provided the first round of federal stimulus dollars,” Rex said.
Another problem associated with the pandemic was the loss of income tax dollars, and the uncertainty of what the future cuts would be.
“Comparing this July to last July we saw a difference of 23.36% or $207,703. With the uncertain future and the loss of revenue, we reviewed each budget item and made cuts to our spending in the spring, summer and going into the next school year. We were able to absorb a few classified positions, reduced one program (ACT preparation) and re-negotiated a contract with a vendor. All of these helped us to get much closer to balancing our budget for next school year,” Rex said.
Rex praised the support the district has received from the community.
“Wapakoneta has been fortunate to have the support of our community in terms of property taxes, income taxes and a strong local base of private and commercial businesses. Our state foundation share has also allowed us to continue to provide excellent opportunities for our students in state of the art facilities.
“We will continue to monitor our expenses along with our revenues so we can be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers,” Rex said.
St. Marys schools
St. Marys schools received more than $254,000 in CARES Act funds, which is being used to help staff classrooms.
“What we plan to do with those funds is to put in perhaps five full-time substitutes to be able to plug any holes that teachers may need to be off for,” said Andy Wilker, treasurer of St. Marys schools. “Those five subs will also be helping to monitor and run our kids that went online fully,” said Bill Ruane, superintendent of St. Marys schools.
Around 15% of the students have chosen to go online at St. Marys schools.
Last school year, the district had many staff members who were paid extra for doing anything from coaching to tutoring. Those supplemental contracts cost the school district quite of bit of money, even if no work was being done by that person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This school year the school district took precautions to keep that from adversely affecting its budget, should it go online only again.
“We did an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with all supplementals for the year that they would be based on percent completion of the contact’s actual duties. So that’s for all supplementals — from band, football, coaching, from drama club to any of them. If we go remote or their duty isn’t fulfilled fully, they will meet with their administrator and they will sit down and work out what percentage of the completion of their duties was done and they’ll get paid based on that,” Ruane said.
Formulating an accurate five-year plan is uncertain, given the circumstances.
“The big thing are the adjustments that you can make based on what you know. Like, we know when the state comes out and tells us what hit we’re going to take with the foundation money, which they did last May. They gave us a heads up on how much would be for June and July and then also for this next fiscal year. The one we’re kind of guessing a little bit more on this stuff like the hit we’re going to take with the income tax, especially in our district where we have only had the income tax for one year. So obviously we don’t know when a typical year looks like, collecting that income tax, because it’s new,” Ruane said.
The school district is also keeping a close eye on supplies for teachers.
“We usually order those in May and we just ordered them two weeks ago, so we won’t get them until the middle of September. That was done because we want to make sure we can even open up,” Ruane said.
St. Marys schools opened Aug. 25.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the budget of Jennings schools in Putnam County according to Superintendent Nick Langhals.
“Jennings Local had to look very closely at future projects and then prioritized the most important to make up for our cuts in the budget. Our state funding was cut approximately $75,000, plus some losses due to operations under the current COVID situation. After prioritizing projects and utilizing all of the available grants and resources offered, we were able to balance the budget prior to cuts and keep our five-year forecast consistent.
“In regards to staff under contract, we are currently utilizing all staff and not had to make any cuts,” Langhals said.
Allen County ESC
The Allen County ESC has made many adjustments due to the pandemic and will continue to make adjustments as necessary, according to Superintendent Craig Kupferberg.
“The first, and most dramatic adjustment that was made was a reduction in staff. We, unfortunately, had to let some very talented people go as we shrunk our professional staff by over seven positions,” Kupferberg said.
“This was due to the reduction in state funding to our member school districts, who are now requesting fewer services from the Educational Service Center. Fewer services requested translates into a need for fewer staff,” Kupferberg said. “The Allen County Educational Service Center exists in order to share services across Allen County schools, which saves districts money. The more districts are able to share services, rather than each hiring individuals themselves, the more money each district is able to save. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true; the reduction in service requests not only caused us to shrink our staff, it also means that the savings to the districts in those areas will, more than likely, be less.”
More purchases to keep staff and students safe are also an added expense.
“We, like any other organization, also needed to purchase more items to combat the coronavirus. Items such as masks, special sanitizing equipment and sanitizers for our facilities, extra computers with cameras and microphones for remote learning and plastic dividers. We also offer related services for students with disabilities at a variety of locations and therefore, needed to purchase mobile transparent dividers to keep individuals safe,” Kupferberg said.
The Allen County ESC did not benefit from CARES Act funding.
“Although we did not receive a reduction from the state, our reduction was felt in the reduced services requested from our member districts. We did not receive any federal ESSER (Cares Act) dollars to assist us in preparing to open school this fall. However, we are very grateful to our county commissioners who have generously provided us with some of their federal ESSER dollars to help us purchase the computers we needed to better serve our remote learning community,” Kupferberg said.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.