West Branch cuts its way out of deficit
BELOIT — The West Branch school board Thursday night approved a five-year financial forecast that shows a positive cash balance each year while avoiding a deficit spending most years, thanks in large part to cuts in certified and classified personnel.
The forecast submitted by school Treasurer David Drawl shows a cash balance of over $2.5 million the first year and growing to over $3 million in the fifth. The district continues in deficit spending the first year at nearly $500,000, but is projected to finish three of the next four with revenue exceeding expenditures, although it is essentially breaking even.
Drawl said the district finished the year at $500,000 deficit in spending, which is less than projected in October. He said it is mostly because an increase of $250,000 in revenue and a slight decrease in expenditures than projected in October.
The forecast includes the reduction of five and a half teaching and 12 classified staff members for a savings of $400,000 in salaries and $300,000 in benefits each year. It also assumes the school board continues with state minimum busing. Drawl said there is still no state budget, but the 2 percent reduction in guaranteed state funding does not appear to be happening, so he did not include it in the forecast.
School board members said they have not yet discussed whether to pursue another levy to generate money for general operations after residents rejected a .5 percent earned income tax the past two ballots.
Although announced at the meeting, a list of the specific cuts and transfers were not readily available following the meeting.
Also at the meeting, Drawl presented information regarding enrollment following claims at last month’s board meeting that more than 150 students had left the district due to the change to state minimum busing, which eliminated busing for all students in high school and those through eighth grade living within two driving miles of their assigned school building. Drawl said according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Education the district has incurred a net loss of 13.46 students between November and April. The district went to state minimum busing in January.
Drawl also noted that transportation ridership is collected once a year in October, but that any loss in state funding related to the statistic is covered in the state funding guarantee. The board had received concerns from community members that a decrease in students being bused would mean a decrease in state funding.
The change to state minimum busing has saved the district $248,840 through May 22 2019 from 2018, according to Drawl’s information. School board members said after they adjourned into executive session that they are still discussing whether to restore full busing for next school year.
During the meeting, two students made impassioned pleas to the board to restore busing. They both said the absence of busing for high school students may force them to attend a different school district that will provide them or family members busing or else be home schooled, either way forcing them to leave the district and their friends.