The Westlake City School District is facing millions in cuts under Gov. John Kasich's proposed state budget, forcing administrators to plan for a leaner school year.
“We’ll lose somewhere in the $2-$3 million range as it looks now,” said Superintendent Dan Keenan. “We have a forecast, so we accounted for some of that loss, but it’s a lot bigger than we anticipated.”
Of the district’s $50 million annual budget, $6.5 million comes from various state sources. Considering the lagging economy, officials had planned for a 17 percent cut in state funding over the next two years. The district is now facing a budget hole two or even three times as large.
Statewide, the proposed state budget would reduce school funding by $3.1 billion. The majority of cuts would come from proposed changes to the tangible personal property tax, public utility funds and basic aid.
“While budget details are still sketchy at this point, Westlake is slated to receive a reduction in all three areas,” said Treasurer Mark Pepera.
The biggest chunk of the district's state funding comes from the tangible personal property tax. While school administrators were expecting the tax to be phased out over the next 7 years, it would be eliminated in just 2 years under the proposed budget.
According to Keenan, the district has zeroed the operational budget for the last two years and will either freeze the budget or reduce it next year. However, due to increasing costs of things like utilities and fuel, zeroing the budget leaves the district with even less funding than the year before.
“When you say zero, you have to take some money out for things we can’t control,” Keenan said. “I can’t control fuel costs, but I can control field trips.”
Keenan said the district is also going to zero the personnel budget and consider reducing positions.
“It will be challenging,” Keenan said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to provide great service and make sure it’s at a value. These times are calling for stronger measures.”
Admnistrators eliminated some teaching positions last year and this year in an effort to make way for an International Baccalaureate program and all-day kindergarten. Keenan said further reductions will be considered very carefully.
“We know we’re going to have to make some other changes. We’re talking right now and examining how that will impact the schools,” Keenan said “We start from what we know we need to protect in terms of our continuous improvement plan. We’re trying to look at things we can do for expense as far away from the classroom as possible, but that’s not always possible.”
As more information comes out, Pepera said members of the administration and the school board will continue analyzing the budget.
“(They) will be prepared to make any necessary adjustments to maintain our commitments to our local taxpayers of maintaining our mission of providing excellence to our student population and 'stretching' the dollars they have entrusted to us as long as possible” he said. “In fact, the superintendent has been very proactive and has already communicated potential staffing reductions for next fiscal year with our board and staff.”
Reporter John Deike contributed to this story.