Independence board considers putting another levy on ballot

by Laura Bednar

Nov. 21 board of education meeting

Treasurer Eric Koehler gave his biannual five-year financial forecast for the Independence Local School district following the passage of the district’s 8.19-mill emergency operating levy in November.

Even with the levy renewal, expenditures are expected to outpace revenue from fiscal year 2024-2028, meaning the district is projected to deficit spend each of those years.

The minimum number of days the district can operate with cash on hand are 90. Operating days available in 2024 total 171 but fall to 45 by 2028.

“We have time to address the deficit spending … either through revenue or reducing expenditures,” said Koehler.

He said 2024 is a reappraisal year for property values and residential, commercial and public utilities are estimated to increase 5.5%, which means an increase in tax revenue for the district. Tax increment financing revenue, a designation for commercial properties that distribute portions of taxes to the school and city infrastructure projects, is expected to rise from $2.7 million in 2024 to just over $3 million in 2028. This includes a projection for the recently completed CBIZ headquarters, estimated to bring in $250,000 for the district in 2025.

The district’s revenue streams include property taxes, state aid, investment earnings, tuition and donations. State funding is projected to grow from just over $1 million in 2024 to $1.6 million in 2028 as a result of Ohio’s new funding plan, according to Koehler, which uses a base cost and cost per pupil formula to determine funding levels.

Koehler said 80% of expenditures are used for personnel salaries and benefits. “If we’re going to have to impact expenses, personnel and benefits are where you’re going to have the largest gain of reductions,” he said.

The district will switch its health insurance to Anthem in the spring, which Koehler said will likely reduce expenses by $10 million.

Levy discussion

Later in the meeting, Superintendent Ben Hegedish raised the idea of adding another levy to the ballot in March 2024. Board member Ron Bernstein said the board should “look at things in more detail, see what we come up with and then our next option is November.”

Board member Carrie Sears said she felt the community supported the district with the passage of the renewal levy, Issue 9, but thinks the reason Issue 10, the additional levy, failed in November was because people can’t afford it right now. “I did not feel like it was a message sent to us [as a board],” she said.

Said Lynne Laski, “There was more than enough information put out in the mailers,” adding that there were several opportunities for the community to learn about the levy. She said her concern is if the board doesn’t advance a March levy, everything gets pushed back, including facility upgrades.

After the discussion, the consensus was to wait to propose an additional levy.

Facility projects

Assistant Superintendent Tom Dreiling gave an overview of facility projects. The installation of a new chiller for air conditioning at Independence High School was completed for $188,724; $144,000 of that cost was covered by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

The district received a grant of just over $283,000 to install additional security cameras throughout the district’s three schools, board of education office and at the corner of Selig Drive and Brecksville Road. Dreiling said the new cameras provide 296 viewpoints in contrast to the previous 63.

Another grant for up to $40,000 will be used to cover most of the cost of an electric boom lift for staff to access lights in the school buildings. Dreiling said this option is safer than scaffolding.

Plans are moving forward to find a space for a permanent wrestling room. Dreiling said a structural engineer is reviewing the possibility of adding a wrestling room on top of an athletic facility at the football stadium. The engineers will determine if the building can handle the weight of a room with people on top of it.

CVCC grant

The Cuyahoga Valley Career Center received a $9 million CTE Construction Grant through the state of Ohio to build new lab spaces for electrical and HVAC classes. CVCC will also remodel lab spaces for building and property maintenance classes as well as architectural and mechanical design classes.

“The plan is to create additional seats so every student who wishes to attend CVCC in the construction career field can be accepted,” according to a statement from CVCC.

Russell Fortlage, CVCC board member representing the Independence school district, said, “The CVCC Board of Education will be considering a resolution in December to approve the addition of the new program of Parks and Environment Resources, which will instruct in the areas of heavy equipment operation, soil and water conservation, forestry and parks management.”

Personnel updates

The board reappointed Fortlage to continue his position as CVCC board member representing Independence Local Schools for a three-year term starting Jan. 1.

Koehler will retire from his position as treasurer effective July 31, 2024. ∞