Forecast shows deficit spending; busing issue explored

by Laura Bednar

May 28 board of education meeting

Independence school district Treasurer Eric Koehler’s five-year financial forecast through 2028 predicted continued deficit spending and an increase in personnel costs.

The forecast shows $20.8 million in revenue in 2025, which rises to $21.9 million in 2028. Expenditures are projected to rise from $21.9 million in 2025 to $23.7 million in 2028. Deficit spending continues in each of the five years; Koehler said the district has been deficit spending for the past four years. He added the district’s cash balance was projected to decrease to $5.8 million by 2028.

In his presentation, Koehler wrote, “The district would need to cut its fiscal year 2028 projected expenses by 7.39% in order to balance its budget without additional revenue.”

The district’s primary sources of revenue are property taxes and state funding.

Tax increment financing revenue, a designation for commercial properties that distributes portions of taxes to the school district and city infrastructure projects, is projected to remain in the $3 million range annually each year of the forecast. This includes $250,000 in 2025 from the newly opened CBIZ corporate building on Rockside Woods Boulevard.

The largest expenditure is personnel salaries and wages, which is projected to rise from $12 million in 2025 to $12.7 million in 2028.

“If you’re going to make adjustments to expenses and make an impact, it’s going to be personnel,” said Koehler. “You’ll need to either ask for new money or be looking at reducing [staff].”

Employee benefits are projected to rise from $4.9 million in 2025 to $5.7 million in 2028. Other expenditures include utilities, building repairs and Educational Service Center personnel. This remains somewhat flat from $3.8 million in 2025, rising to just over $4 million by 2028. The predicted costs include the contract of a potential third school resource officer.

Bus drivers

With one driver resignation and one retirement approved at the meeting, interim Superintendent Tom Dreiling outlined the district’s current busing situation. There are 10 routes, and Dreiling said the district is adamant about not having empty buses.

“We haven’t had to cancel a route,” he said.

The buses travel to four schools outside the district in the K-8 grade levels, and three at the high school level, according to Service Manager Francine Kane.

The district has already implemented group bus stops instead of individual homes. There are seven full-time drivers. Dreiling said the district is offering a bonus for drivers that recruit people to drive for one year, but nothing has come of the initiative yet.

Kane sent a survey to school parents to determine how many students need bus transportation next year. At the time of the meeting, 451 students signed up. Dreiling said the past couple of years, parents were asked to reserve their child’s spot on the bus to get a more accurate head count.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Dreiling said the goals are to hire drivers and determine the number of students who need a bus. “We can’t start the year knowing we can’t run the buses,” he said.

He added that utilizing bus driver-certified custodians is only done in emergencies and is “not a sustainable practice.”

Remembering Russell Fortlage

Lifelong Independence resident Russell Fortlage passed away on May 27 at age 82. He spent almost 36 years on the Independence Board of Education and served as the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center representative for the Independence school district.

Dreiling said Fortlage took time to get to know people and “brought value not only with his perspective but with his heart.”

Board member Lynne Laski recalled Fortlage attending school football games, regardless of the weather.

Said Koehler, “He was a friend and mentor; I will miss him.”

Dreiling added that the district planned to honor him. “He believed in all the good we try to do here,” he said.

Senior stats

High school Principal Mike Janatovich presented statistics on the class of 2024. There were 82 in the graduating class. Seniors were accepted at over 50 colleges and will be attending 27 different colleges.

Six students earned the designation as AP Scholars, AP Scholars with Distinction and AP Scholars with Honors for their scores on AP tests.

There were 27 students participating in career vocational training at the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center.


The board renewed contracts for Director of Curriculum and Technology Mike Pennington and Primary School Principal TJ Ebert. Pennington’s contract runs from Aug. 1, 2024, through July 31, 2026. Ebert’s contract runs from Aug. 1, 2024, through July 31, 2027.

Project updates

Dreiling gave an update on the installation of new bleachers at the football stadium. He said the International Building Code changed in March, so construction plans had to be altered to follow the regulations. This pushes the expected completion date back about three weeks to the end of August.

He added that he and board members plan to meet with city officials to discuss repairing the fieldhouse parking lot. ∞