London Schools: Financial picture still not clear
By Jane Beathard
There’s good news and bad news at London City Schools.
The good news: district finances are currently in slightly better shape than originally projected.
The bad news: without passage of an 8.5-mill tax levy on Nov. 8, the district will be $1 million in the red by the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
That’s the message newly hired treasurer Christine Blind delivered to board of education members during a work session on Tuesday.
Initially, board members scheduled the session to plan cuts in the budget if the November issues fails or discuss program and personnel restorations if it is approved by voters.
But that agenda took a different turn as Blind — on the job for two days — presented a preliminary snapshot of the district’s finances.
Blind said a contract between London City Schools and its offshoot community school, London Academy, will bring at least $700,000 in additional revenue to the district this year. Last year’s layoffs and belt-tightening also had a positive impact on the bottom line.
“We’re making headway for fiscal year 2012,” Blind said.
She noted it will take about two more weeks of review to get a clearer financial picture and begin preparing the October projection required by the Ohio Department of Education.
“We scheduled this meeting too soon,” said board president Vici Geer.
Board member Martha Geib, M.D., said an upbeat financial report might discourage voters from supporting the levy in November.
“The public won’t understand why we have a cash balance,” she observed.
Blind emphasized the improved financial picture stems from an “advance” payment of property taxes. The London district received an allocation of tax money in June that is normally paid by the county auditor in July. The district paid its end-of-year bills with that money — a practice that Blind and former treasurer Shirley Dodge discouraged.
Without a similar advance, the district will fall about $1 million in arrears by the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
Board member Marv Homan challenged Blind, Superintendent Steve Allen and other administrators to explore ways of slicing the budget.
“I want to hear how you will cut $1 million,” Homan said.
He said private businesses generally eliminate overtime, sick pay and extended work days to cut costs.
“We have to get a handle on these types of items,” Homan said. “What are other districts our size doing?”
Homan particularly targeted district expenditures on substitute teachers, extended service days and health insurance.
“There are a lot of dollars we can save besides cutting teachers,” he said.
Allen noted the need for substitute teachers is uncontrollable.
“How can you control people ‘calling off’ sick?” he asked.
Allen also said substitutes who fill in for teachers attending professional development classes are generally paid via grants.
Homan was unmoved by Allen’s argument.
“A culture builds up because that’s the way it’s always been done,” Homan said. “Is there another way to accomplish this?”
Blind offered to provide board members with a break down of expenditures for substitute teachers, as well as costs associated with extended teacher service days.
Another work session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 in the board conference room.