Westlake school officials are maneuvering on district, local and state levels to find a way to absorb $6.3 million in proposed state funding cuts over the next two school years.
Superintendent Dan Keenan announced at Monday’s special budget meeting that he may need to collectively reduce or eliminate anywhere from 44 to 73 administrative, teaching, classified and exempt positions.
On the operational side, he has proposed offering all-day kindergarten on a tuition basis, eliminating free field trips and cutting back on transportation expenses to bring it to about a 60/40 split in cuts to personnel and operations, respectively.
“I may have to cut $3 million out of my budget for next year and beyond and I can’t sustain no new curriculum materials and no new computers forever,” he said. “When 85 percent of my budget is staff, I have to utilize staff cuts in order to have a sustained savings (to help balance the budget).”
Keenan has met and been in contact with concerned parents and citizens, Westlake teacher associations, the Board of Education, State Representative Nan Baker (R) and Senator Tom Patton (R) to see how he and district treasurer Mark Pepera can avoid a proposed 60 percent cut in state funding to the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Westlake City Schools budgets.
He plans to continue to meet with others like Karen Herzberger of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) and Amy Butcher of the Westlake Teachers Association (WTA) over the course of this week to discuss if any deals or concessions can be reached in regard to reducing staff compensation or eliminating positions.
On the state level, school officials have been in regular contact with Baker and Patton in an attempt to prove their case to Ohio legislators that the proposed cuts to the district (71 percent or a $3.1 million reduction in state funding for next year alone) is too steep and represents an inequitable scenario.
The cuts would slash the three sources of state funding the district receives, which are: basic aid, tangible personal property tax reimbursements and public utility reimbursements, Pepera said.
These sources of revenue account for about 12 percent of the district’s annual $50 million budget and the cuts would shrink that percentage by about seven to eight points, Keenan said.
According to Keenan, of all the tax dollars that are generated in Westlake on an annual basis, the district would only see about 1.5 cents, or 1.5 percent, on the dollar under the Governor John Kasich’s proposed budget. The other 96.5 cents would be redistributed to help fund other school districts and two cents would go to help pay the state’s $7 to $8 billion deficit.
“We get the fact that we have high valuation, but we also want some of our state dollars to work for Westlake,” he said. “What’s very frustrating isn’t to see (our funding) reduced to fill this state deficit; it’s to see the wealth redistributed. We just don’t feel like this is the time to take pennies on the dollar from Westlake and give them to other districts when you’re trying to fill an $8 billion deficit.”
Baker has heard his arguments and the Superintendant is prepared to ask for a 25 percent cap in state funding cuts versus the 71 percent that’s proposed for next year.
Locally, officials may look into the possibility of a new school levy to boost revenue and Keenan is encouraging the public to attend next week’s regular board of education meeting to offer opinions and insights.
“As we have consistently done, we will continue to look at every possible way to offset expenses,” board president Thomas Mays said. “Schools are limited in ways to increase revenue, but we will be exploring all opportunities available to us.”
“I think we have shown that we have been financially prudent and cautious in the past as we have extended our last levy well beyond the number of years that were promised to our taxpayers.”