Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Spending up at Cincinnati schools

Budget for 2003-04 will be overspent; 2004-05 higher, too

By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati Public School officials expect the district's spending to exceed its 2003-04 budget by millions more than originally projected because of unforeseen costs.

Those costs may also force the district to increase its preliminary $454 million budget for 2004-05, district Treasurer Michael Geoghegan said Tuesday during a public hearing on the proposed budget.

Actual expenditures for last school year aren't yet available, in part, because the district is still negotiating with several unions, including the Cincinnati Association of Administrators and Supervisors and the Greater Cincinnati Building and Construction Trades Council. Their members would have to be paid retroactive to Jan. 1, causing costs to rise.

The district also concluded teacher contract negotiations in the spring, including raises this year of 3.2 percent.

Officials say those raises, along with declining state revenue and uncontrollable costs, such as payments the district makes to charter schools, present tough fiscal challenges.

"The budget will probably have to be adjusted," Geoghegan said. "We don't know to what extent."

He said he expects to know the actual expenditures for 2003-04 later this week. The district then expects to present any changes to the 2004-05 budget Aug. 18.

District officials already forecast overspending the $436.6 million budget for 2003-04 by $5.4 million, but the additional costs are expected to propel that number higher.

The announcement of new overruns comes despite Superintendent's Alton Frailey's pledge last year to run the district "better, faster and cheaper."

His $436.6 million budget was $700,000 less than the previous year. District officials sounded the alarm last month about difficulties keeping within budget.

The district's preliminary 2004-05 budget shows spending projected to increase nearly 3 percent, and the district has announced a hiring freeze to stem escalating costs.

For example, payments to charter schools are anticipated to increase from $33 million to $43 million for 2004-05.

The other growing, uncontrollable cost Geoghegan cited is out-of-district tuition, which increased from $8 million last year to a projected $11.8 million for 2004-05. These are payments primarily made to other districts and institutions for special-needs students and children placed in foster care.


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