The Delaware City School District will be pursuing a levy to offset a deficit caused by state funding caps.
Delaware City Schools Superintendent Paul Craft explained that the state’s funding formula applies a cap to how much a district’s funding can grow based on how much funding was received from the year before. Craft said the district has grown by more than 240 students in the last two years, but has gotten no additional money from the state to accommodate the growth.
“We could gain 1,000 students, or for that matter lose 1,600 students, and our state funding would stay the same,” Craft said in an email Friday. Craft said the district’s expenditures have increased to accommodate all the growth without any additional revenue.
Craft said district will face an $18,000,000 deficit in three years as a result of the funding formula.
“If we had received full funding the last six years and the next three years and all other factors remained the same, we would instead be looking at around a $30,000,000 surplus in 2020-21,” Craft said.
On Thursday, Dave Yost, the auditor of state, published a list of recommendations to eliminate the district’s deficit.
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; and 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.
“The Delaware City School District faces adverse fiscal circumstances,” Yost said. “Difficult decisions will be required to balance the books. But other school districts have overcome similar challenges and there is no reason why Delaware can’t do the same.”
Craft said the district has been working with the auditor’s office and will follow some recommendations from the auditor’s like cutting maintenance costs, but said the district is not planning to eliminate staff.
“If we did these [staffing] cuts I don’t know how we could provide the same quality of education to our students,” Craft said. Delaware City Schools is second in Ohio when it comes to lowest spending per pupil and cutting 36 positions would reducing spending per pupil by another $1,000.
Delaware City Schools Treasurer Melissa Lee said Friday that the district spent $9,733 per pupil in fiscal year 2016. Lee report the state average was $11,164 and districts similar to Delaware spent $10,184.
Craft said the cuts would also mean an increase in class sizes across the district. Craft said kindergarten classes are already at 25 kids and some classes in the district are at 30 students.
“This board and this district team have done so much to deal with the situation we’ve faced, but we are at a breaking point, as indicated by the severe cuts the state auditor recommends if we aren’t able to raise more revenue,” Craft said.
Craft said that personnel cuts are the last option the district would pursue.
He said on Thursday that the district will be working place a levy on the ballot in November to combat the looming deficit.
Lee said the last time the district passed an operating levy was 2011 and said that the district believed at the time that the district would be able to go four years without requesting new operating dollars.
“Through conscientious spending practices, we have been able to stretch those dollars six years now,” Lee said. “The district has a great story to tell. We spend significantly less than the state average and the central Ohio average as well and our students achieve at high levels.”
School officials said the exact details of the levy are being worked on and said a levy proposal could be approved by the board of education in June or July.
Additionally, Yost recommended that the district close Willis Education Center, which formerly housed fifth and sixth grade but now serves as district headquarters and fifth-grade classes for Woodward Elementary and Smith Elementary students until the expansions at those schools are completed this summer.
Craft said the district will be cutting costs at Willis Education Center by restructuring the facility.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.