The Findlay City School District has three new buildings and it is doing a good job maintaining its older ones. But now it’s time again to ask voters for money to pay the bills to keep them operating. The district’s 5.9-mill levy on the May 6 ballot was last approved by voters in 2009 and went into effect in 2010.
Each year since, it has generated about $4.8 million for teacher salaries and benefits, textbooks, equipment and supplies, utilities, transportation and maintenance.
The district has adjusted well to state funding cuts, made sound financial decisions, and is operating leaner than it did a decade ago.
For those reasons, we urge voters to support the levy.
That said, voters should be aware they’re voting for a continuous levy this time, not for one that would be in effect for only five years.
School Superintendent Dean Wittwer and Treasurer Mike Barnhart said approving the renewal for a continuous period will allow the district to plan better and eliminate the need to keep returning to the ballot for routine operating money.
“Voter fatigue” can occur when they are regularly asked to decide school levy issues. The district’s other operating levy, 4.9 mills, was renewed in 2012, but is still on a five-year cycle, meaning it will likely be back on the ballot in 2017.
By not having to go to voters as often, Wittwer and Barnhart said the district can eliminate some of the uncertainty that comes each time a levy comes up for renewal or replacement.
Every levy attempt means the district must develop a contingency plan in case it is defeated. It means teacher contracts have to be put on hold pending the outcome of an election. Purchases of equipment, or even a school bus, may have to be put off until new votes are counted.
Long-term financial planning has never been more important for the district. State funding has been inconsistent in recent years and the intangible personal property tax, which was paid by businesses for years and once represented 25 percent of local tax revenue, is being phased out.
Unfunded state and federal mandates also make school funding challenging.
The district, however, has adhered to a fiscal health plan since 2006.
One barometer of a school district’s financial planning is “true cash days,” a state guideline which indicates how many days a district can operate based on available funds. The state likes districts to have 40 true cash days. In 2005, when Findlay schools had a larger staff and didn’t have an operating levy in place, there were 17 true cash days.
In 2013, it had 67.
If Issue 5 is approved, the district would average 63 true cash days each of the next three years. The financial picture, however, could worsen dramatically if Issue 5 is defeated. By 2016, the number would drop nine days and, if adjustments weren’t made, it would be minus 129 days by 2018.
In such a scenario, staffing levels would have to be cut sharply and school programs gutted.
The district has also made tough decisions when necessary. In 2006, the district employed 878 full- and part-time employees. But the district reduced staff, consolidated middle schools and changed curriculum. By 2013, staff had been reduced to 734.
That, in turn, has allowed the district to decrease its employee compensation costs, the largest district expense, from 86.3 percent (2006) of its budget to 76.7 percent (2012).
Approving a continuing levy may require a leap of faith, but the district has earned the community’s trust. Its annual audits regularly exceed state requirements, and it’s proven the five-year strategic plan is more than a piece of paper.
The 5.9-mill levy is an important part of the funding puzzle, and a big reason for the district’s sound financial health. Renewal would keep it on the books indefinitely, but provide added security to a district that is working hard to keep its schools, staff and students moving forward.
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