By Sue Kiesewetter
LIBERTY TWP. - Prepare for cuts.
That's the message Lakota educators are readying after reviewing numbers for a March tax-increase proposal. ballot issue. Those numbers show a $15 million deficit in Ohio's eighth-largest school district by June 2005.
The district is the only one among Ohio's 10 largest to receive an excellent rating - the highest ranking possible - on the state report card. But good grades don't prevent budget problems.
Lakota Treasurer Alan Hutchinson said it would take 12 mills - about $25 million a year- to keep the district solvent for four years and open three new schools called for in a facilities plan.
Add $68 million to pay for construction, plus $9 millionto renovate existing schools and almost $8 million to upgrade/convert Liberty Elementary into an early childhood center, buy land and other projects and you end up with another 2.44 mills.
And that, board members say, is too much to ask voters for. They want to put an issue on the March ballot that remains under 10 mills.
A 10-mill tax increase would add about $312 to the tax bill of an owner of a $100,000 home.
"I think we've got to make some cuts," said board member Dan Warncke.
While those cuts aren't yet known, educators say they could result in larger class sizes and fewer new employees because wages and benefits make up about 87 percent of the budget.
"It will not be the same look we're used to," Hutchinson said.
Contributing to the budget woes, Hutchinson said, is reduced money from the state, 1,667 additionalstudents since the last levy passed in 2000 and double-digit increases in health care costs last year and again this year that are expected to continue.
Revenue from taxes businesses pay on inventory is also down, Hutchinson said.
Superintendent Kathleen Klink and other administrators met Thursday and began looking for areas to cut spending.
Administrators will bring options for board members to review before making a decision on what to put on the March 2 ballot. The deadline is Dec. 18.
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