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Boardman schools uncertain of five-year forecast

October 17, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

The Boardman School District's fiscal officer is working hard to keep the five-year forecast up to date. He has done an excellent job thus far, considering the unknowns that the future may hold.

"It's ridiculous to me to be required to come up with a five-year forecast when one doesn't know what the state is going to do," said Superintendent Frank Lazzeri.

What he was referring to was the state requirement that calls for each Ohio school district to submit a five-year forecast on the schools finances.

To pull off the forecast, district fiscal officer Richard Santilli has to figure in items such as inflation, increased fuel costs and the loss of state revenue from a variety of sources.

"It is hard to do even a one-year forecast, but we have really good people and we are always discussing things that will affect us in the next five years," Santilli said. "In August of 2011 we made a forecast of revenue for the end of fiscal year 2012 and we were within $2,200."

He said that was excellent considering a district that has a budget of around $39.7 million annually.

The forecast considers carryover amounts from the prior year that are used to start the next year. The present five-year forecast has a carryover for 2013. The problem is that the state is cutting funding right and left, causing the carryover amount to diminish each year as the district is in deficit spending.

Boardman will have a carryover for 2012 and possibly for 2013 and 2014. In 2015, the district will drop seriously into the red with a negative cash flow of $4.4 million unless something is done soon.

According to Lazzeri, the 3.9 mill levy on the November ballot would help balance the budget, but there is a need to pass it this year.

"The reason we are asking for it now is the fact we will only get half the collection in 2013," he said. "We won't get a full year's collection until 2014."

He said Boardman Schools are in deficit spending due to open enrollment, charter schools, the new Peterson Scholarship program, and the loss of personal property tax.

Tangible personal property tax, the tax businesses had paid on inventory, has been eliminated. It was collected on the local level and Boardman with its high number of commercial properties -- collected a good amount that went toward schools.

Lazzeri said the elimination of Ohio's tangible personal property tax was supposed to be good for business in the Buckeye state. The state switched the tax to a new one called Commercial Activity Tax, or CAT. That tax was collected by the state and thus the state decided how to divide it. To help offset the loss of the personal property tax, the state gave school districts a share of the CAT collection, at least for this year.

"Our bottom line is that we are at the mercy of the way the state handles the funds," Santilli said.

He said Boardman used to get $4.5 million from the tangible personal property tax. This year, Boardman is receiving $2.4 million as its share of the CAT collection. The big unknown at this time is how much more will be taken away next year, if districts get any at all.

Another negative issue for the budget is the Jon Peterson Special Education Scholarship. This state-mandated program gives $7,195 up to $20,000 per school year for special education students to attend their school of choice. Boardman School District loses on average $8,500 off their budget. Right now there are eight Boardman resident students attending other schools under this new program totaling approximately $68,000 to attend three private schools.

On top of that amount, there are 175 Boardman students attending charter and private schools. The total amount going out of the Boardman district for those schools and programs this year is at $1,503,000. In 2003, the amount was $254,506.

When all things are taken into consideration, the state taxes, school choice program and the unfunded state mandates have taken a toll on Boardman Schools. It has pushed the Boardman Board of Education to make some tough decisions such as cutting back on staff and programs like technology at lower grade levels and even language classes. German language at the high school and middle school industrial arts and home economics were all dropped in the past eight years.

"We're better off than some districts, but we are by no means in good shape," Lazzeri said. "We don't know what the state will do next to take away funding."

The tough part is that after the state cuts more and more from the district, it still has to face inflationary rates. Items like diesel fuel can take jumps and effect the bottom line. Last year, Boardman Schools paid $250,000 for diesel fuel to run its bus fleet. That cost will likely rise this year.

While the budget is being continuously punched by the state and other outside sources, Boardman Schools is not taking a dive into silence.

"We belong to a group, with 20 other school districts, called The Coalition for Fiscal Fairness," Lazzeri said. "We are in Columbus fighting to preserve the remaining amount (of state funds) we receive in reimbursements."

Lazzeri and Santilli said they have advocated and will continue to advocate for separate state funding for the Ohio-legislated school choice programs. While the fight wages on, both men say they are hoping residents can see the need for the 3.9 mill levy in a few weeks. Passage of the levy would help erase the red ink, at least for the next five years.



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