Lakota schools’ budget ax falls
POSTED MARCH 12, 2012
By Michael D. Clark
Michael D. Clark reports
When Lakota students started this school year, they saw fewer teachers, staff specialists and have fewer course options, thanks to about $10.5 million in sweeping budget cuts approved March 12 by the district’s school board.
The Lakota board voted to accept in 2012 some of the deepest budget reductions in the 18,000-student district’s 55-year history. The district is running out of money after voters have rejected three tax hikes in two years.
The board votes brings an end to a rare string of public discussions on hundreds of details in the five budget-cutting plans – pre-school, kindergarten and elementary, junior and senior high, athletics and district-wide operations – brought to the board in the last two months by Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia.
“It saddens all of us that we have to face these issues,” Mantia told an audience of more than 200 residents and school employees in Lakota East High School’s auditorium, “but we are not the federal government, and we can not spend more money than we bring in.” she said.
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The cuts in Ohio’s seventh-largest school system were projected to include 141 teaching, classroom specialist, school nurse and school staff positions, and nine school and central office administrators. Also downsized was the amount of time students will have for arts, music and physical education activities; class periods for high school students; and the number of graduation credits required, from 21 to 20.
Lakota officials simultaneously introduced a new core curricular program designed to help meet tougher pending state standards. Officials have contented that the reduced times in arts, music and gym classes will allow for more instruction in core subjects.
Longtime Lakota parent Lisa Babcock criticized the board for shrinking the learning options for her children. She has already taken some of her kids out of Lakota for private schools and may soon remove all her children due to this latest round of budget cuts.
“I know things are going to get worse,” said Babcock.
The board voted on each reduction proposal separately, and the closet margin was a 3-2 vote, with members Julie Shaffer and Joan Powell opposing the out-sourcing of Lakota’s pre-school program to Butler County’s Head Start program.
Details on the budget reduction plans can be found at www.lakotaonline.com/budget.
Lakota officials said the $10.5 million in reductions for 2012-13 will balloon to nearly $11 million due to increased payments for unemployment compensation and severance pay.
At the time of the cuts, Lakota’s annual operating budget was $154 million. Furthermore, after the cuts were announced, the district faced a projected budget shortfall of $14.1 million in 2015.
Lakota Local Schools still faces financial hole
UPDATE: Lakota Schools have slowed but not stopped its financial bleeding, officials said during a school board meeting on Oct. 22.
“There’s not much change bottom-line. We are predicting our spending deficit will return,” said Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan during the district’s five-year, financial forecast, which is mandated bi-annually by state law.
“We are still going to balance our budget this year and need to keep our eye on next year and make decisions,” but Logan, added that “predictability beyond fiscal year 2013 is challenging (and) the long-term financial direction of the district must be addressed.”
She said Lakota faces a $1.8 million projected budget deficit by 2014.
Despite the news last week that Lakota continued its streak of earning the state’s highest academic rating of “Excellent with Distinction” for the 2011-2012 school year, officials at the Butler County district are worried.
Lakota is Southwest Ohio’s second largest school system.
Bus transportation has been eliminated for thousands, classes are larger, and dozens of teacher, building staff positions and central office jobs have been eliminated as budgets have been cut $35 million in the last three school years.
The district’s $146 million operating budget for this school year is less than it spent in 2009. Lakota receives 40 percent of its annual operating budget from state funding and 60 percent from local tax revenue.
Earlier this year, school families in Lakota thought they might see the district try for another school tax hike before the end of 2012. But with the state’s biennium budget proposals coming in early 2013 – and deadline for state funding approval set by that state budget facing a deadline of June 30, 2013 – that unknown budget factor helped prompt district officials’ earlier decision to avoid the ballot this year.
The school board took no budgetary actions after the presentation.
“There are more things we don’t know now than we do know. Additional information is needed before we assume revenue beyond January 2013,” said Logan.