The Columbus City Schools' board held a special meeting at the Downtown High School last night, to discuss a looming sea of red ink.
Alison Holm has more.
“We need to hear all ideas. Leaving nothing off the table, turning over every rock.”
School board president Gary Baker says the district isn’t in a crisis yet – but could be $89 million dollars in debt by the 2020 school year. And that deficiet could balloon to $224 million the following year. Treasurer Stan Bahorek explained that while there have been some unexpected savings for the district, the General Assembly’s decision to cap state financial aid at 4%, instead of the anticipated 7.5% will have a tremendous impact on the five-year financial forecast. He says – because the district cannot control the cap, and is reluctant to return to voters with another levy request until 2020 – cutting costs are the only way to avoid running into the red.
Possible cuts were divided into a grid, based on whether they are required or mandated, and whether or not they have a significant impact or rate of return for the district.
“Those items that we’re not required to do, that we don’t have a really good return on the investment either operational or instructional, then those are the ones that are most likely to be on the reduction list.”
The board spent four hours pouring over the 22-page list of possible recommendations, which include cuts in professional development, in-school police officers, college readiness counselors, summer school, leadership interns, and transportation for field trips and athletics, among other possibilities. Also under consideration would be the elimination of 163 staff, all but 10 of which would be in academic services. While some of those eliminations could be handled by attrition and leaving positions unfilled, it marks a retreat from the 2016 levy promise to add 325 new jobs.
Some board members say the district needs to look beyond the list of possible cuts. Dominic Paretti raised the possibility of selling the downtown office building, and sparing classroom cuts.
“I mean, if we could find some relief… for our classrooms; not cutting materials, not cutting all that … I haven’t heard a single thing that I want to get rid of . it’s all very important. So, then we need to start, as a board, we need to consider those other options.”
Details of the over 300 proposed cuts under consideration are available on the district website, and officials are asking for public input. The board hopes to decide on cuts by the end of March.