Thursday, August 03, 2000

Waynesville schools fight fiscal jam

New levy possible; ifs abound

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WAYNESVILLE — Wayne Local Schools is not broke, but money is tight and getting tighter.

        The district scraped by this year by not filling one teaching position to avoid a projected deficit in 2002.

        But the scraping cannot go on forever, said Superintendent Thomas Isaacs.

        With a mere $4,000 carry-over in the general fund this year, the superintendent said the district will have to seek more revenue — possibly a new operating levy — within three years.

        Mr. Isaacs said the need to go to the taxpayers will depend on several factors, including:


  • The reappraisal of homes by the county auditor taking place this year.

            „A plan the school district hopes to complete by September.

            „The state's decision on whether to revamp the way it funds schools, under scrutiny for relying too heavily on local taxpayers.

            „An industrial park that was recently approved on a 128-acre site along Ohio 73 that may bring additional tax revenue.

            The projected deficit came out in the district's five-year plan, which every public school system is required to submit to the state, said Wayne Treasurer Ron James.

            That forecast predicted that the district would be short about $8,100 in 2002, leading the school board July 22 to vote not to fill a fourth-grade teaching position this year, Mr. James said.

            Eliminating the position saved the district about $40,000, he said.

            The $4,000 surplus does not include a state-required “rainy day fund”' that will total about $300,000 by the end of the school year, Mr. Isaacs said, adding that the district must pay that money back if accessed.

            By September, Mr. Isaacs hopes the district's strategic planning team will have an outline ready of projects it would like to see accomplished in the next few years. Those include creating an early childhood education program.

            But all of that takes money.

            “We're being very stingy with the money we spend,” Mr. Isaacs said.

            The cramped administrative offices, where the unisex bathroom doubles as a storage closet, reflect the slim spending.

            Mr. Isaacs said he inherited the tight budget, now around $7 million annually, when he became superintendent a year ago.

            The year before Mr. Isaacs came on board, the school district's employees were in the midst of a salary freeze. Last year, Mr. Isaacs negotiated a 2.5 percent raise for the employees, he said.

            He'll be going back to the table in two weeks to negotiate another contract with teachers, which he expects will mean at least a small raise for the employees but also more money the school system has to pay out, he said.

            Mr. Isaacs attributes the budget problems to Ohio's school funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes. In addition, Waynesville has no industrial base, he said. The largest employer there is the school district, he said.

            Though districts such as Mason City Schools draw as many as 700 new students a year, Wayne Local Schools grows only about 2 to 3 percent a year, Mr. Isaacs said. Nevertheless, inflation ary costs force school districts to return to their taxpayers every few years to seek additional revenue, he said.

            “The cost of business here is increasing while revenue remains constant,” he said.

            The district has been funding some of its needs, such as buying new textbooks, through its permanent improvement levy.

            But the improvement levy is up for renewal in 2001, Mr. Isaacs said.

            The reappraisal of the district's homes may give school administrators a better idea of its tax base, he said. And Mr. Isaacs said he is hoping the industrial park will attract some light industry that will shore up the tax base.


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    - Waynesville schools fight fiscal jam