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Olentangy school board discussed three factors Wednesday night in the district’s financial future: the governor’s budget, the Senate’s collective bargaining bill, and, of course, the 7.9-mill levy on the May ballot.

The school officials’ resounding point: Regardless of the budget or the bill, the district would need the 7.9-mill levy.

Board addresses Gov. Kasich’s budget

Board president Julie Wagner Feasel said the reports of schools receiving a slight increase in state aid were misleading — of more than 600 schools, only 400 would see the increase.

Furthermore, that the increase was expected to be 1 percent. Treasure Rebecca Jenkins reported that the district received $7 million in state aid for 2011. A 1 percent increase would translate to $70,000.

“I don’t want people to think that a 1 percent increase is going to mean we don’t have to pass the levy,” said Wagner Feasel. “It’s not going to be a windfall of money by any means.”

Regardless of the budget’s outcome, board member Scott Galloway said he was “pleased” with what the district had done.

“We’ve made appropriate steps,” Galloway said. “We’ve known this was coming.”

Jenkins said that the district had expected a 30 percent decrease in state funds.

Yet Wagner Feasel again stressed the importance of the levy, “no matter what happens at the state level.”

District’s cost reduction plan

Even if the levy passes, superintendent Wade Lucas emphasized that the district would still need to make cuts. He outlined the areas expected to be cut regardless of the vote, the greatest cut being $2 million to address long-term sustainability of salary and benefits.

Lucas said that more specific details were on hold until the effects of Senate Bill 5 were known, “but we know that we have to start attacking that long-term sustainability….The funding model that public education has is not sustainable.”

Other expected cuts related to staff reductions included 14 to 18 positions in middle school and high school certified staff (estimated cost savings of $1 million), four positions in custodial and tech support ($565,000), and about 2.5 positions in administrative staff ($232,000).

The reductions expected for programs and operations included restructuring special program services from off-site to on-site ($250,000), eliminating random drug testing and converting to canine services ($180,000), reducing staff professional development ($80,000), limiting transportation to a 50-mile radius for athletic contests ($80,000) and reducing printing and postal usage ($40,000).

The total reductions translate into an estimated savings of $4.4 million annually.

“The 7.9 (-mill levy) allows us to maintain and continue the programs that we have, we hear loud and clear that things have to change, that things are changing, and things will continue to change,” Lucas said. “But that is the list.”

Superintendent: Senate Bill 5 is no ‘silver bullet’

Confronting the perceptions that the collective bargaining bill is a “silver bullet” that would relieve tax payers from having to deal with levies, Lucas advised caution before any decision was made official.

In the meantime, he said the district must confront looming deficits, that the money is shrinking, and that the district continues to grow.

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