Voters in the Delaware City School District will decide on an emergency operating levy for the district when they head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
District officials decided this summer to place the levy on the ballot after receiving a devastating report regarding finances from the Auditor of State earlier this year. Despite enrollment growing by 850 students since 2010, the district has received no further funding from the state — district funding is capped — and is facing an $18 million deficit by the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Superintendent Paul Craft.
In May of this year, Auditor of State Dave Yost published a list of recommendations to eliminate the district’s deficit as part of a performance audit. Those included eliminating the equivalent of 16 full-time positions including library staff, remedial specialists, counselors and other staff; cutting 20 teacher positions; adopting an across-the-board 6.5 per cent staffing reduction; freezing base salaries and step increases for two years; moving all employees into a high-deductible health plan coupled with a health-savings account, and requiring all employees to pay 20 percent of their health-insurance premiums; and closing the Willis Education Center, which is the district headquarters.
“Quite frankly, these cuts would fundamentally change what we would be able to do for our students and our ability to retain quality employees,” Craft wrote in a blog post on the district’s website. “The auditor’s findings are no surprise to the district leadership and school board. When we last passed a new-money levy six years ago, we hoped that it would last 3 or 4 years. We have stretched the time between levies to 6 years, delaying as long as possible our need to return to our voters. Our continued enrollment growth, coupled with the failure of the state legislature to fully fund their own adopted school funding formula for districts like ours, means that the time has come when we can no longer wait to return.”
The measure before voters is a 5-year, 8.35-mills levy that would generate about $6.2 million annually, according to information provided by the district. If approved by voters, collection would start in 2018. Funds would be used to “support day-to-day operations such as teachers, transportation, basic utilities and student safety.” The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home approximately $288 annually or $24 per month.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, for fiscal year 2017, DCS currently spends $9,995 per pupil, which is $1,524 below the state average of $11,519 per student. The average per pupil spending by fellow central Ohio districts is almost $12,000. District enrollment totals 5,800 students, but DCS only receives funding for about 3,900 students from the state.
“These figures show the work we have done to control costs,” Craft said. “The cuts recommended by the auditor would reduce that per pupil amount by another $1,000 per year, putting us far behind all central Ohio districts and indeed among the poorest and lowest spending districts in the entire state.”
Craft called the levy “pivotal” to the future of the Delaware City School District.
“Its failure would mean that we would need to consider implementing many or all of the cuts suggested by the auditor,” he said. “I personally don’t like to think about what those cuts would mean for our students, our staff and our community.”