Operating levy “likely” to be on the ballot in Highland in 2025


May 20 school board meeting

Highland School Supt. Catherine Aukerman said “it is likely” that the district will place a new operating levy on the ballot in 2025.

Aukerman made the announcement at the May 20 board of education meeting at which School Treasurer, Neil Barnes, presented the district’s five year plan. Board President, Chris Wolny said it has been 11 years since the district has sought new operating funds. Voters approved a bond issue to building three new elementary schools and renovate the middle school in 2017.

 Barnes explained that by state law, the board of education must submit a five-year projection of operational revenues and expenditures along with assumptions to the Ohio Department of Education prior to Nov. 30 and update by May 31 of each fiscal year. Required funds to be included in the five-year forecast are; General Fund, any special cost center associated with general fund money, emergency/substitute levy funds and any debt serve activity that would otherwise have gone to the general fund.

The five-year forecast is divided into three sections; revenues, expenditures and fund balance. A district’s operating revenues are made up of two main sources; local and state funding. The primary expenditures are salaries and wages, fringe benefits, purchased services and supplies and materials. Barnes said that for numbers to be meaningful, one must also review and consider the Notes and Assumptions that accompany the forecast.

Barnes said total operating expenditures are projected to be $38,801,634 for fiscal year 2024. Expenditures are expected to gradually increase to $48,344,387 by fiscal year 2028. The rise in projected expenditures from fiscal year 2024 to 2028 amounts to about 6% annually and is attributed to inflation, cost associated with contractual commitments, and the exhaustion of one-time Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program funds. These estimates have been formulated in a conservation manner. Historically, the district has experienced favorable forecast variances on the expenditure side, most notably with respect to the cost of fringe benefits.

“The district has been able to build healthy cash reserves and extend the levy cycle considerably through sound financial management,” said Barnes. “Unfortunately, deficit spending, inevitability for all school districts, is project to recommence in fiscal year 2025. The situation will need to be addressed in the near term though the infusion of new revenues [i.e. a new levy] and/or budget reductions, which are difficult given Highland’s already low cost per pupil.”

Barnes added that deficit spending is expected to begin in fiscal year 2025 and continue throughout the five-year forecast. Fund balance is projected to dip below the district standard of 120 days in fiscal year 2027.

“Future State funding continues to be an uncertainty,” said Barnes. “Infusing new revenues (new levy) reducing expenditures through budget cuts, or a combination of these two options will be necessary in the not-too-distant future.”

Board member Robert Kelly said that it is not uncommon for school district to go out to the ballot “every two to three years.”

“I hope our residents remember that we haven’t gone out for new operating funds in 11 years,” said Kelly. “Our administration has done a great job of taking care of our funds. We don‘t have a number of administrators that other districts do, for example, we do not have an assistant superintendent. Often some of our teachers and other employees are doing the job of two to three people.”

 Wolney, said the fact that the district has been able to go for 11 years without asking for new funds “has been through good stewardship.”

“We made deep reductions in 2011 and very few new positions have been added,” said Wolney. “Since 2011 it’s been the motto of “due more with less.” At some point, if that continues, people crash and burn. I think the staff here goes above and beyond what is asked.”

The amount of a new operating levy, and when exactly it will go before voters, will be discussed an upcoming board meetings.

The board continued its new practice of having a presentation from a different school building at each meeting. At the May 20 meeting, the focus was on Hinckley Elementary with principal Jim Carpenter introducing Hinckley Elementary art teacher Katie Massaro and physical education teacher Annie Crawford. Both teachers have worked to bring some of their classroom activities outdoors and also reach out to parents. Massaro explained that one activity that brought parents and students together was an Open House paper making class. Massaro also held a Make-it-Day with students going outdoors from station to station for different art projects.

“We did things that were really messy that we traditionally don’t do in the classroom,” said Massaro. “One student commented that ‘it was the best day of his life.’”

Crawford said a nine hole Cosmic Golf challenge brought in over 100 families. During a Family Fitness night, parents and students participated in an obstacle like course each designing their own running bib.

In other business at the board meeting:

  • Theresa Wright, director of the Highland Foundation, announced that the Foundation awarded $161,285 this school year.  She also announced that the annual Highland Foundation will hold its annual Great Gifts Benefit Dinner on Saturday, Nov. 16, 6-11 p.m. The theme is; Platinum Edition, celebrating the 25th year of the Foundation. For questions and more information, go to the Foundation website at events@highlandfoundation.org.
  • Supt. Catherine Aukerman said that the Drive a Bus event was a success “with many potential drivers attending.” She said three new drivers are now in training although the district is still seeking additional drivers. Aukerman said she does not anticipate any major changes in transportation for the upcoming school year.