BW treasurer talks budget, records

SUNBURY — The first Big Walnut Board of Education meeting of 2023 included a lengthy treasurer’s report from Treasurer Darren Jenkins.

The meeting was held on Jan. 12 in the Big Walnut High School Auditorium.

Jenkins said he and his staff were a couple of days behind schedule due to illnesses, so December and January’s financials would be ready for the February meeting. However, revenues were higher than expected and expenses were lower than expected. Jenkins noted the end of the calendar year, and the end of the fiscal year (June 30) were the two busiest periods for his department.

Jenkins said a concluded state audit uncovered a $610 posting error that has since been corrected, which he said was good considering the district has a $68.3 million budget. He said the audit is a public document and is willing to discuss any questions the board or public may have.

Also, Jenkins said he prepared documents about how a levy in fiscal year 2024 (to be collected in FY 2025) could help the district remain solvent over the life of the five-year forecast, as well as 60-90 days beyond. This wasn’t for buildings, he said, rather it was for the operating budget. It would require 7.9 mills, Jenkins said, or 7.5-8 mills. Another option would be increasing the property tax from 0.75% to 1%, “and that is not uncommon for schools in the state of Ohio,” he said. He said property tax ranges from 0.75%-1.25% in districts statewide.

Jenkins said he would know more precisely about the numbers after the May forecast and advised the board to discuss the matter in earnest either in the spring or summer. He said the longer a district pushes out the levy cycle, the higher the millage tends to be. Board member Steve Fujii said that means the taxpayer ends up spending more money.

Also in his report, Jenkins provided a wage and salary analysis, including substitute teachers. Jenkins said Big Walnut costs on the latter were the lowest in the area.

“Our staff in all classifications is bending over backwards to fill classes so that we don’t have to close, or we don’t have to do something drastic, and that also goes for our bus drivers,” Superintendent Ryan McLane said. Fujii expressed his concern about staffing shortages.

Jenkins also mentioned public records requests. He said there had been eight total from last month’s board meeting, with four still outstanding. The requests involved 20 hours of labor among staff, including the Business office and information technology. He said those four requests involved a significant amount of data, and some data, such as email, has to be reviewed individually by a third-party review team of attorneys in case redactions are needed for things like Social Security numbers. The oldest request, Jenkins said, involves tens of thousands of emails and may be completed in another three weeks. He said he has never had a request that extensive before, but that is the public’s right.

Fujii said he has been attending board meetings for 16 years, and typically, there are two to three public records requests per year. He wondered whether airing the request progress publicly has increased the number of requests, placing an undue burden on the district’s staff and additional costs.