By LOU WILIN
VAN BUREN — Van Buren Schools — once Hancock County’s most affluent district — has become a victim of the state’s enthrallment to tax cuts for businesses, a school official said Monday.
With a projected $1.3 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 2020, Van Buren Schools is on the state Education Department’s “precautionary financial watch” list. Van Buren Schools must submit a plan to the state on how it would avoid the deficit, projected to worsen to $3.2 million by the fiscal year beginning July 2021.
Van Buren school board President Jim Griffith said tax cuts for manufacturers have come at the expense of the schools.
“What has happened is years ago … the factories, one in particular — Whirlpool — went about 10 years ago and had their property re-evaluated. So they got a lot lower valuation on their property, so they’re paying a lot less money,” he said. “We’re probably getting 55 or 60 percent of the revenue that we used to from Whirlpool. Over the years that just has added up.”
“The state, to make Ohio a more business-friendly state, that’s what the state has done to us,” Griffith said.
Van Buren Schools is like a person who has not received a pay raise in 15 years, he said.
“We’ve done the best we can to stretch (tax revenue) out, but we’re at the point where we have to have new money,” Griffith said.
School officials asked district voters last November to approve a 1 percent income tax to avoid deficits. Voters, by 56 percent to 44 percent, rejected it at the polls.
That proposed tax will be on the ballot again in March, and a renewal levy will be on the ballot in November, district officials told residents in a letter last week.
“While we are actively working to ensure the passage of both levies, we are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” the board’s letter to residents stated. “By February, the board will provide a list of all the reductions that will need to occur if either the income levy or the renewal levy fails.”
In the meantime, measures to hold the line on spending will take effect Jan. 1, the school board said:
• A hiring freeze for all vacated positions unless a replacement is required by law. A vacancy in a noon aide position will be filled by shifting over an existing aide, Griffith said. A custodian vacancy will not be filled. For the time being, existing custodians will take on additional responsibilities.
• Spending will be frozen for all non-critical, non-emergency supplies and materials.
• Professional development training and education for staff will be restricted.
• Boys and girls basketball teams and other extracurricular participants will not be transported to games or events at the school’s expense. The school will only transport students to and from school.
School officials are evaluating a “pay to participate” approach to athletics, music and school clubs for the 2020-2021 school year.
State Education Department officials said Monday they will be meeting with Van Buren school officials over the coming weeks to “evaluate the district’s finances; the district’s past, present, and proposed action steps to address the fiscal duress; and the district’s written plan to eliminate the forecasted deficits.”
Van Buren’s plan to eliminate the projected deficits is due to the state by Jan. 31, 2020.
“During the course of this process, the possibility of placing the district into fiscal caution will be discussed,” a state education spokesperson said.
Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin