By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
If Findlay City Schools cannot increase enrollment, the district will have to make cuts to address deficit spending, Shane Pochard, the school board’s president and finance committee member, said Monday.
“We cannot sustain the path that we’re on right now,” Pochard told the school board. “I think that needs to be said and be clear that the path that we’re on is not sustainable. And I’m really not talking five years out, I’m talking like one year out.”
Last month, the school board approved a fiscal year 2018 budget that included a projected general fund deficit of $4.1 million.
The district ended the 2017 fiscal year with a cash balance of $9.8 million, but the gap between revenue and expenses this year is “pretty severe, pretty serious,” Pochard said.
To fix it, the district will need to either grow enrollment or cut spending, he said.
Gaining students is “clearly” the preferable option, Pochard said. “We’ve just not been successful recently in doing that. So some hard decisions are probably going to have to be made, and I just want to prepare the district and the community for those decisions potentially.”
The district’s fall 2016 student head count was 5,744, according to enrollment data on the Ohio Department of Education website.
In fall 2011, that number was 6,029. Enrollment in fall 2006 was 6,562, up about 800 students from current levels.
Students have left the district through open enrollment, with Liberty-Benton being the most popular destination, or by choosing charter schools.
Charter schools are performing “below Findlay schools, and yet they still get the same (state) money, they’re not held to the same standards, they’re not accountable,” said Treasurer Mike Barnhart.
“We don’t have a budget for lobbying, and those charter schools do,” he added.
Findlay’s spending has not been careless, Pochard said.
“Findlay City Schools has been very responsible with money,” school board and finance committee member Chris Aldrich agreed.
“We’ve spent money on staff to take down our student-to-teacher ratio, which is one of the things that the board wanted to do, and we felt that it was important,” Pochard said.
According to the 2015-2016 state report card for the district, Findlay had 40.3 general education teachers per 1,000 students. The district also had 4.1 career-technical teachers and 9.8 special education teachers per 1,000 students.
During the same school year, Liberty-Benton had 45.6 general education teachers, 1.5 career-technical teachers and 10 special education teachers per 1,000 students.
The Findlay school board will consider “multiple options” for addressing the deficit in “a sound, financially secure way,” Aldrich said.
A variety of approaches will be needed, Pochard said.
“There’s not one card that we can play that’s $3 to $4 million. It’s an aggregate number of things that have to be done,” Pochard said.
Pochard and Aldrich plan to hold more finance committee meetings and bring recommendations to the board.
Separately, the board approved a supplement to its contract with Findlay Digital Academy, allowing the school to offer the 22+ Adult High School Diploma Program.
The Ohio Department of Education program allows students 22 and older who have not earned a high school diploma to do so.
There is no cost to the students. The state will reimburse the academy for classes as students complete them, said Rosemary Rooker, Findlay Digital Academy executive director.
The academy is an online school focused on dropout prevention and recovery.
Separately, the board accepted a $250 grant to support the creation of a yoga program at Glenwood Middle School. The money came from the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation’s M. Margaret Foster Education Fund.
The school board was welcomed to its meeting at Glenwood Middle School by Jefferson Primary students, who demonstrated a short version of the student-led “town hall” that each school day begins with. They led the Pledge of Allegiance, recited Jefferson’s mission statement, gave a weather report, thanked the board members, reviewed “the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and ended with a song.