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Strongsville schools place new 5.9-mill tax on May ballot, make $1.1 million in spending cuts

February 19, 2019

Strongsville schools place new 5.9-mill tax on May ballot, make $1.1 million in spending cuts

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio – The Strongsville schools will ask voters to approve a new five-year, 5.9-mill tax May 7 while implementing $1.1 million in across-the-board cuts.

If the May levy fails, the schools will make deeper cuts, administration officials said. The school board will discuss those potential cuts in detail Thursday night.

“None of us want to see any of this,” board member Duke Evans said during a Feb. 4 board meeting. “We wanted to keep our schools the way they were because we were doing great. We just didn’t get the support from voters.”

Evans was referring to voters’ rejection in November of an additional 7.9-mill tax that would have generated about $11.3 million annual for Strongsville schools operating expenses, including teachers’ salaries. About 62 percent of voters said no to the tax, which would have been permanent.

Schools Superintendent Cameron Ryba said the 7.9-mill tax would have allowed the district to maintain its existing level of staffing, programs and services through the 2025-2026 school year.

Last year, district officials said that without the tax, Strongsville schools would start deficit spending in 2019 -- meaning that expenses would exceed revenues and that the district would need to tap into its savings to balance the budget -- until district savings are wiped out in 2022.

Ryba said that after the November levy failure, the district organized eight focus groups – four consisting of parents, three of staff member and one of community members – to solicit feedback on how the district might move forward when it comes to funding.

Based on that feedback, the district chose to seek less money from voters over a shorter time and simultaneously make spending cuts.

Focused on finances

During a Jan. 24 board meeting, Ryba said focus group members questioned how the Strongsville schools can need more money when enrollment has declined steadily, from a total of 7,168 pupils in 2007 to 5,361 pupils in 2018, according to district records.

Ryba countered that the district hasn’t sought new money since 2007, and since that time has lost about $9 million a year in revenue, due to reductions in state funding and elimination of certain state and local taxes. Meanwhile, costs of goods, services and utilities have risen.

Also, school districts must pay for unfunded mandates from Ohio government, Ryba said. For example, a state program called College Credit Plus allows high school pupils to take college-level courses, saving families thousands of dollars in college tuition. However, local school districts must pay for that program.

According to a PowerPoint presentation by schools Treasurer George Anagnostou, district expenses – without new money and not including the $1.1 million in cuts – will exceed revenues by $3.4 million in fiscal year 2019, which ends Sept. 30. The district will dip into $25.9 million in reserves to balance the budget.

Expenses will exceed revenues by $5.1 million in fiscal year 2020, $7.1 million in 2021, $9.6 million in 2022 and $11.6 million in 2023. By 2023, the district’s reserves will be wiped out, leaving the district broke and unable to operate, according to Anagnostou’s projections.

Ryba said the district has already reduced its staff by 199 positions and reduced by six the number of school buildings to reflect declining enrollment.

Another option

The administration presented the school board six options for May tax levies. All would expire after five years unless voters approved a renewal:

5 mills would generate $7.9 million annually. It would cost property owners $14.58 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $4.8 million in December 2025.5.5 mills would generate $8.7 million annually. It would cost property owners $16.04 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $56,000 in December 2025.6 mills would generate $9.5 million annually. It would cost property owners $17.50 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $800,000 in June 2026.6.5 mills would generate $10.3 million annually. It would cost property owners $18.96 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $900,000 in December 2026.6.9 mills would generate $10.9 million annually. It would cost property owners $20.13 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $2.4 million in June 2027.7.5 mills would generate $11.8 million annually. It would cost property owners $21.88 a month for every $100,000 in home value. The schools would reach a negative balance of $900,000 in December 2027.

Ryba recommended 6 mills. He said it would restore the $9 million in revenues the district has lost since 2007. Also, a 6-mill levy would cost property owners less than 7.9 mills, which voters rejected. And, coupled with $1.1 million in annual spending cuts, the district should remain stable through the 2025-2026 school year.

Ryba added that among the options, 6 mills would stabilize the district financially for the longest time at the lowest tax rate for property owners. Anagnostou said four votes, or yeas from two-thirds of the board, were needed to set the millage amount.

Board President Carl Naso and members Evans and George Grozan voted in favor of 6 mills. Evans said he didn’t know of any company in the private sector that could survive on the budget it had in 2007.

“Anything below 6 mills leaves us naked and defenseless,” Naso said.

However, board members Richard Micko and Jane Ludwig voted no. Micko said the board must consider not only what the district might need but what voters would most likely approve. He said the district will avoid deeper cuts, at least for another school year, only if a May levy passes, whatever the millage.

Micko suggested a 5.-5 mill May levy. He said it would buy the district time to show voters it is managing their tax money well.

Ludwig and Naso voted yes, but Evans and Grozan voted no, so the motion failed. At the end of the meeting, Evans suggested a compromise of 5.9 mills, but other board members said a millage amount different than ones already presented wasn’t feasible.

Nevertheless, at a Jan. 29 special meeting, the board took one of two votes needed to place a 5.9-mill tax on the May ballot. The vote was 4-0, with Micko absent. The second vote was 5-0 on Feb. 4.

Ryba said he would present more information about the 5.9-mill tax, and how much it would cost homeowners, at Thursday night’s board meeting.

Cost-cut breakdown

The $1.1 million in spending cuts, as presented by Ryba to the board Feb. 4, include:

A delay in the purchase of new textbooks: $311,627. Ryba said this will save money only in the short term because eventually the district will have to buy new textbooks.A reduction in district-wide staff: $251,796. This includes a reduction in work days for some office-support workers; elimination of the Publications Department and outsourcing that function; and a reduction of mentors from a 1:1 ratio to a 1:2 ratio. Also, Ryba said starting this summer, all elementary- and middle-school buildings will close for the summer.A reduction in Strongsville High School staff: $168,475. From now on, large high school music classes that had two teachers will have one teacher. The district will also “reduce” a guidance counselor position, a special-education-aide position, a contracted social worker position and a greeter-monitor position. It wasn’t clear whether the reductions would involve layoffs, but Ryba did say Feb. 4 the district “will have to let people go” at the high school.A reduction in the student services budget: $142,000. It wasn’t clear Tuesday who or what will be affected by these cuts.A reduction in the Strongsville Middle School staff: $114,600. The school will “reduce” a special-education-aide position. It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the reduction would involve a layoff. Also, like at the high school, large music classes that had two teachers will now have one. A ukulele course will be eliminated, and an adaptive art and adaptive physical-education course will be “reduced.“Elimination of two bus routes: $62,000. One of the routes is for the Strongsville schools, and the other is for parochial schools. Also, the district will eliminate midday busing for kindergarten students living on non-busing streets.A reduction in district-wide expenses: $55,000. This includes the elimination of a program through which children of staffers not living within the district can attend Strongsville schools tuition-free. Also, the district will reduce building budgets by 10 percent, although it wasn’t clear how. And the summer weekly work calendar will be cut from five to four days, reducing utility costs. The district will also adjust some policies and procedures, but it was unknown Tuesday which ones or how the adjustments would save money.A reduction in the number of eighth-grade sports teams: $16,500. This will affect the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and the volleyball team, but it wasn’t clear how on Tuesday.