Saturday, November 8, 2003

Fairfield schools facing crisis

Multi-million projected deficit will force either cuts or levy

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

FAIRFIELD - The numbers don't look pretty for the Fairfield City School District, which is facing a nearly $4 million deficit by the end of the next school year.

And that has school officials watching every penny spent as they struggle to find ways to cut spending and increase revenue without affecting school programs.

"The school year we're in now is the last time we'll end in the positive," said Treasurer Scott Gooding.

The district's five-year forecast, filed with the Ohio Department of Education, shows general fund revenues this year of just under $64 million, but expenses of $68.5 million. The difference is being made up through carryover balances and the district's rainy-day fund.

But those funds are drying up and won't be enough to allow the district to end the next school year in the black, as required by law. So that means one of two things: either spending has to be cut, or additional dollars must come in.

Even with a one-time $600,000 boost the district is expecting from Cincinnati Mills, owners of Forest Fair Mall, if a tax increment financing district is established, more money will be needed, said Superintendent Robert Farrell. Additional revenue from recently announced development projects in Fairfield Township will help, but not negate the need for a money issue to be put on the ballot, he said.

"We won't know by the first week of December what we might get from the project, but all it would do is make it (money issue) last a little bit longer," Farrell said.

The board of education plans to discuss the need for some kind of ballot issue on the March primary ballot at its Nov. 15 retreat.

At that time, Farrell and Gooding will present the board with several options for cutting back spending and increasing revenue. The deadline for putting any ballot issue on the March 2 ballot is Dec. 18.

To make that deadline, Farrell said, the board would need to make a decision by the first week in December.

Already the school district has imposed a hiring freeze, restricted travel and cut building/department budgets twice in the past 18 months.

"Our priority is to do the most cutting we can with the least impact on our programs," said Anne Crone, board president.

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