Monday, May 3, 2004

Schools tighten belts to get by

Levies planned, staff and programs cut

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Princeton is cutting teachers. Winton Woods and Three Rivers are cutting teachers and high school busing. Sycamore is downsizing.

Greater Cincinnati school districts continue slashing budgets in the wake of revenue and levy losses. Ohio's unconstitutional school funding system, coupled with changes in state business tax laws, translate into more districts heading to the ballot box.

Sycamore Community Schools will be on the ballot in August for the first time in six years, and Winton Woods City Schools will return then after losing its March 2 levy.

Princeton City Schools is cutting 30 teachers, seven administrators and 35 support staffers, including educational aides, custodians and clerical positions. That will save the district $4.9 million in salaries and benefits in next year's budget. The reduction is on top of $1.4 million already cut for the current school year.

"This is one of the toughest things we have ever had to do here at Princeton," Superintendent Don Darby said. "But the loss of revenue to the school district and the reality of a school funding crisis in Ohio forces us to make some hard decisions and reduce the number of staff across the district for the 2004-05 school year."

The district of 6,000 students didn't have a levy on the ballot this year, but it's making reductions because of large revenue losses in tangible personal property tax revenues paid by businesses. Business machinery, equipment and inventory are subject to property tax, but the state is phasing out the inventory portion of that tax.

The tangible personal property valuation makes up about 20 percent of Princeton's total assessed valuation. Princeton had a valuation decline of about $61 million, or just over 13 percent of the total tangible personal property value.

Along with personnel cuts, two programs have been eliminated from the district next year: the Parents as Teachers program that served children from birth to age 3, and the Montessori program that operated in three elementary buildings.

Princeton is making the cuts in the budget this year to offset the need for going to the voters for an operating levy in 2004. Because of these cuts, the district is able to extend the life of the 1999 levy to six years and is laying the groundwork for an operating levy in 2005.

At Winton Woods, high school busing for public and private school students will be eliminated next year, saving about $100,000 annually. It's part of $2.1 million in cuts from next year's budget.

The 4,100-student district previously announced the elimination of 41 positions, including 23 teachers, and other nonpersonnel cuts.

In August, Winton Woods will ask voters for the same amount it requested in March when the issue was defeated 56 percent to 44 percent. The district seeks a combination levy of 7.95 mills that would raise $3.9 million annually, and a 1-mill permanent improvement levy that would raise $495,000 a year. The cost would be $274 on a $100,000 house.

"If the levy passes, we will reinstate the high school busing for the fall," school board President John Pennycuff said. "If the levy fails, we'll cut another quarter million out of capital improvements. That includes major repairs, new roofs and painting."

Also for next school year, the Winton Woods board increased student fees, pay-to-play fees and rental fees on facilities, and reduced summer custodial help. All-day kindergarten will continue, but parents will have to pay $50 per week per child for a half day of the all-day program.

Like Princeton, Sycamore also faces a decline in business tax revenue. Tangible personal property taxes paid by businesses dropped by about $1 million from last year and has decreased by $1.6 million from two years ago.

Sycamore is putting a 7.9-mill continuing operating levy on the ballot. In preparation, the district is tightening its belt and reducing its budget by $14.4 million over the next four years.

"We are reducing our costs before going on the ballot to avoid a large levy request," Superintendent Karen Mantia said. "The targeted amount scheduled for reduction in the 2004-05 school year is $3 million."

The $3 million in proposed cuts is largely in personnel, from administrators to teachers to support staff, but the final total of positions being cut is still being discussed.

So far, the school board approved three administrative cuts: one assistant principal, the chief information officer and testing coordinator.

At Three Rivers Local School District, which lost a March 2 levy by a vote of 76 percent to 24 percent, the district of 2,200 students is cutting $1.5 million for next year.

Those reductions include elimination of 12 teaching positions, two administrative positions and 11 bus drivers. Some cuts may be achieved through retirements.

Among other cuts:

• Two classroom aides, one clerical position at the board office and the reduction of two-thirds of a bus mechanic position.

• High school busing and transportation for K-8 students who live within 2 miles of their school.

• A 50 percent reduction in supplemental positions, which means that positions were eliminated, and pay to participate fees for students were increased.


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