The Switzerland of Ohio Local school district is working to cut $1 million from its budget.
The district has already laid off three employees and instituted a teacher hiring freeze, Superintendent Larry Elliott said. The outcome of a permanent improvement levy vote next month, negotiations with bargaining units and an attempt to cut insurance expenses will determine what additional steps the district must take, including the elimination of classes like elementary physical education and music and high school shop and French.
"If we could not get our house in order, then the state would be able to come in and take over operations of the school district," Elliott said.
This is the third consecutive year the district has been classified by the Ohio Department of Education under "fiscal caution," meaning its five-year forecasts have shown deficits in the second years of their projections.
"We've always run a very lean operation," Elliott said.
"(We) don't like to cut because it impacts the offerings to the students. So (we) hold out as long as we can," he said.
Beallsville Elementary principal position not filled.
Laid off central office secretary, maintenance position, district courier.
Hiring freeze for teachers, except for critical needs positions.
Eliminated two bus routes.
Three-year, 2.35-mill permanent improvement levy on ballot Nov. 6.
Negotiations with teacher and support staff unions.
Reviewing insurance expenses.
These are possible courses of action that could go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
Elimination of consumer science, high school shop, French, elementary physical education and elementary music.
Reduced high school music and band offerings.
Source: Superintendent Larry Elliott.
This year, the district was projected to spend $1,063,215 more than it took in, Treasurer Lance Erlwein said.
"It's a combination of the deficit increasing, declining enrollment and cuts at the state and federal levels," he said, citing the loss of one-time federal stimulus funds that made up for state funding reductions in recent years. "It's like the perfect storm up here."
If a district does not correct the conditions that placed it in fiscal caution, it could be moved to fiscal watch. That would give it 60 days to submit a plan to the state. If that plan was not submitted or not carried out, the district could fall under fiscal emergency, resulting in a five-member commission appointed by state and local authorities becoming the governing body of the district.
For the first phase of its budget-cutting plan, the district has opted not to fill the Beallsville Elementary School principal's position, instead putting Beallsville High School Principal Micah Fuchs in charge of the entire campus. Meanwhile, a central office secretary, maintenance employee and district courier have been laid off. A hiring freeze has been instituted for teachers, except in cases of critical need, such as a long-term substitute brought in to fill a math-teaching vacancy at Beallsville High School, Elliott said.
"This has resulted in some crowded classrooms, with unfortunately over 30 students in (some) of my elementary rooms," he said.
Before the second phase goes into effect, the district will negotiate new contracts with the bargaining units representing its teachers and support staff and review its insurance expenses to look for places to save. Voters are being asked Nov. 6 to approve a three-year, 2.5-mill permanent improvement levy. It would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 approximately $76.56 a year and generate an estimated $785,000 annually, Erlwein said.
"It takes dollar for dollar pressure off that general fund," he said.
The levy is the same as one residents first approved in 1996, but voted not to continue last year, Erlwein said.
By law, revenue from the levy could only be used for items that will last five years or more, such as buses, textbooks and building maintenance. It cannot be used for salaries.
"If we're successful there, that will reduce some of the load on our general fund that helps (maintain) our bus fleet," Elliott said.
At 546 square miles, Switzerland of Ohio is geographically the largest school district in the state. Buses travel more than 5,000 miles a day transporting students to and from schools. Some of those buses have been in use for more than 20 years and have more than 300,000 miles on them.
The physical makeup of the district also offers a challenge in how the district can save money, Erlwein said. State formulas indicate the district has 46 more teachers than the minimum requirement, yet combining smaller classes in schools on opposite sides of Monroe County isn't a realistic option, he said.
"We can't combine classes, where in a smaller district, that would be the solution," Erlwein said.
Consumer science classes, often called home economics; high school shop; French; and elementary music and P.E are all on the chopping block for the second phase of cuts.
"We'll also be looking at reduced offerings in high school music and band," Elliott said.
If all of those cuts were implemented, along with the ones already made, it would save the district an estimated $750,000 to $850,000. The success or failure of the levy and negotiations and potential savings on insurance costs will help determine exactly how many of the phase-two cuts are needed, Erlwein said.
The district's financial situation is not the result of, nor can it be aided by, the ongoing $88 million project to renovate and build new schools throughout the district, Elliott said. The 7.69-mill bond issue and accompanying 0.5-mill permanent improvement levy are dedicated solely to those efforts.
That revenue "can't be tapped for the general fund operation of the district," Elliott said.
Having new buildings is expected to cut down on maintenance costs, but the cost of utilities, with year-round HVAC in the new facilities, is not yet known, he said.
Switzerland of Ohio public relations committee
Today - 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Beallsville High School.
Thursday - 5 to 7 p.m., Skyvue Elementary; 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., Woodsfield Elementary.