School districts respond to state cuts

MIAMI COUNTY — Miami County public schools will have nearly $3 million slashed from the remainder of their 2019-2020 school year budgets.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced cuts to the state budget, with education across the state seeing a large percentage of those cuts.

DeWine called for $465 million in cuts to education. The cuts accounted for 60 percent of the $775 million in cuts announced and will include state-funded schools, colleges, and universities.

The state released new data Wednesday showing how much each school district will lose with the cuts. Troy City Schools had the most sizable cut in state funding with $855,097 lost.

Piqua City Schools will have $534,734 cut; Tipp City, $536,228; Miami East $287,030; Milton-Union $250,097; Bethel Local Schools, $133,814; Covington Schools, $132,235; Newton, $100,839; and Bradford, $75,467.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said the district expects additional funding cuts next year and the district is still working on its plan to cut back.

“The announcement was made just this week, and although it is too soon to have a specific plan in place, we do know that we will need to reduce our expenses. This will be particularly difficult as we already operate at one of the lowest local tax rates in our area,” Piper said. “It is too soon to know how this will specifically impact our students, teachers, and support staff. We will make every attempt to make these adjustments in a way that minimizes the impact on our students.”

Questions loom as to what a typical school day will look like at the beginning of 2020-2021 for all districts across the county and the state, for which Piper said makes it that much more difficult to plan and budget.

With the $855,097 loss, Piper said the administration and the Board of Education will need to meet in the near future to discuss the need to seek additional funding and how to balance that need with the need for new elementary schools.

Piper said, “The district has not requested additional operating dollars in the past 14 years. We know that we cannot continue to operate effectively in old buildings with our current revenue stream. As a result, we also know that we will need to reduce expenses and/or seek additional funding.”

Piqua City Schools Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said, to put it in perspective, the district’s total loss of $534,734 is equal to 14 starting teacher salaries.

“We were already on a two-year freeze from the state, (and) we will most likely see an additional loss in funding with income tax revenue down and property tax delinquencies,” he said. “We are currently looking for ways to offset this loss of funds by evaluating areas in the budget we did not have to spend at the conclusion of the school year since our schools were closed during the pandemic.”

Due to the closing, costs have been down for things like diesel fuel for daily and extracurricular transportation needs, field trips, paper products, utilities, substitute teachers, typical educational supplies, etc.

“Our intent is to absorb the impact of this cut through this method as much as we can, but additional budget reductions from the governor would require us to make difficult decisions that could have a more significant impact on how we educate our students,” Thompson said. “We will continue to provide a quality education for our students while preserving and protecting our valued tax dollars.”

Tipp City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gretta Kumpf said that it was not surprising to see budget cuts from the state due to the pandemic and economic challenges, saying the governor “was very transparent in communicating the likely need for cuts in education.”

“A budget cut is never easy and how to make up for the loss of funding is a challenging task,” Kumpf said. “We are beginning difficult conversations on where to trim the budget so it is least disruptive to staff, students, and the community.”

Kumpf said another aspect determining where to make cuts in their budget is “the uncertainty of the fall semester.” She said, “Ohio school districts do not know if we will return to the classroom, remain online, or go to a blended model. Our needs today could look very different than the needs we will have in August.”

Kumpf said the board is reviewing the information, and the cuts of approximately $536,228 from Tipp City schools will be reflected in May’s five-year forecast.

Milton-Union Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Dr. Brad Ritchey shared a letter to the school board and staff about its $250,097 cut from the state. The district’s overall annual budget is around $14 million.

“As you know, our district has worked extremely hard to monitor spending and still provide a great experience for students. With years of hard work and fiscal responsibility, we are fortunate to be in a better situation than many school districts,” Ritchey said. “However, with a small budget, every dollar matters to serve students, and we continue to receive conflicting information regarding the format in which we might begin next school year. Meaning, we cannot predict potential costs school districts will incur with additional safety precautions, so we are making immediate budget adjustments using the following principles and parameters.”

Ritchey said the district will stop non-essential spending for the current fiscal year immediately and new expenditures for the current school year will require pre-approval, but the cuts will not affect contracted salary and benefit payments for the current fiscal year.

Miami East Local Schools Dr. Todd Rappold said the next school year, however it will look like, will be a challenge with the $287,030 cut from the state. Rappold said the district will hold off on scheduled purchases such as textbooks and technology.

“Yet, we understand these are challenging times for everyone, so we are making similar adjustments that families across the district are now making,” Rappold said. “The uncertainty of what the start of the 2020-2021 school year will look like makes it challenging to plan for the opening of school right now for everyone. We are not sure what additional safeguards we may need to implement for the arrival of students and staff on campus. The district is working with the Ohio Department of Health guidelines as we potentially may need to make purchases to distance and safeguard our students.”

Covington Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Gene Gooding said that while the district will lose $132,235 of expected state funding during the current fiscal year, it will also receive $107,603 in federal stimulus money through the CARES Act.

This funding comes from legislation passed at the federal level through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, establishing the Education Stabilization Fund. Districts in Ohio will access these funds through Comprehensive Continuous Improvement Plan, the same as Title I funding.

“While this amount is significant, we should be able to offset this year’s reduction due to decreased expenditures, including bus fuel, substitute employees, utilities, and the like,” Gooding said. “However, the 2020-2021 school year is another matter.”

Gooding noted he does anticipate a further cut to foundation funding, as well as an expected loss in revenue from income tax collection. He said the district will hold off on planned renovations, including that of the Smith Field restrooms and locker rooms, until the “financial picture is more clear.”

“Our goal is to continue to provide an outstanding, well-rounded education for our students, and every financial decision will be based on maintaining or improving that high level of educational programming,” he said.

Superintendent Pat McBride of Newton Local Schools, the county’s smallest school district in student size, said, “The district will feel the effects, but we feel that we can manage to get by for the immediate future until we have a clearer picture of (the) long term financial ramifications from job loss and lower income tax revenue, increases in health care costs, and lower state foundation payments. If the economy bounces back relatively quickly, our district is in a good position to weather the storm.”

McBride said the loss of $100,839 from its budget of nearly $2 million, will mean “teachers and all staff members may have to do more with less.”

Like many other school leader, McBride expressed frustration over the daily changes of the state directives in regards to student education, but they are planning as best they can.

“We are planning for some things we are most certain will change in our immediate environment and buildings such as more PPEs, hand sanitizer, more hand soap, etc,” he said. “We can afford to wait a little longer to be able to predict the circumstances relative to starting up in the fall. It’s day by day right now, and we need to finish this school year before we start in on detailed plans for next year.”

To date, McBride said the district doesn’t anticipate the need to request more public funds to offset the state cuts.

“We do not anticipate asking the public for any additional new tax revenue in the foreseeable future,” he said. “We understand that people are out of work and trying to control their own finances. It would not be right for us to complicate their world anymore than what it already is. We have to take a look at how we can cut costs long before we would ever discuss going back to the voters. We are hoping and praying for a quick recovery for our nation and its economy.”

Bethel schools Superintendent Justin Firks was optimistic about their district being able to handle the cuts for now.

“I feel confident in the short term we’re going to be fine,” Firks said. “For the rest of the fiscal year (2019 to 2020), we’ll be okay.”

“Obviously, our district knew that potential cuts were coming,” Firks said. He said the district was anticipating those cuts to come during the next fiscal year, though, but they are not expecting to go to the taxpayers for additional operating funds.

The district is also not anticipating any cuts to staff right now. Firks said, with the growth in that district, “We’re not in a position where we can afford to cut staff.”

Superintendent Dave Larson of the Miami County Educational Service Center (ESC) said his facility did not receive any cuts to its funds from the state, but as the majority of their funds come from the local districts that were hit with cuts, their financial health is closely tied to the districts they serve.

Larson expressed disappointment that the state cut funding now instead of waiting until the next fiscal year, and he also hopes the state will work school districts in regard to future cuts.

“I certainly understand that hard financial times call for difficult actions. I am disappointed that the state cut funding to our school districts with less than two months left in the fiscal year. I would have liked to see the state consider utilizing some of the rainy day fund and give districts time to plan for cuts next school year,” Larson said. “As we look at starting the school year in a different manner (distance learning, blended learning, etc.), we have to recognize that delivering education in a new model is not going to be inexpensive. I hope that the governor and state officials work closely with school districts to make strategic decisions about future cuts and the long term consequences.”

Bradford schools will also be losing approximately $75,467, and the administration is looking at where to make cuts to the budget.

“These cuts will be devastating to a small district like Bradford where every dollar counts,” Bradford Superintendent Joe Hurst said. “The district administration has already begun looking at current expenditures to determine the likelihood of their future.”

Future uncertainty provides difficulty with planning

Staff reports

Melanie Yingst, Sam Wildow, and Aimee Hancock contributed to this story. © 2020 Miami Valley Sunday News, all rights reserved.