Coronavirus, state funding cuts’ impact: Lakota facing budget deficit in coming years say officials

Officials in the 16,800-student Lakota Schools said during a recent, online community chat about finances the district is facing a projected budget deficit in the coming years due to expenses from the coronavirus and cuts in state funding. Lakota officials, however, stressed there are no discussions or other plans to seek a new school tax levy. (File Photo\Journal-News)
Officials in the 16,800-student Lakota Schools said during a recent, online community chat about finances the district is facing a projected budget deficit in the coming years due to expenses from the coronavirus and cuts in state funding. Lakota officials, however, stressed there are no discussions or other plans to seek a new school tax levy. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Butler County’s largest school system is facing an estimated $11.7 million budget deficit in five years caused in part by extra costs from operating during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but also due to recent cuts in state funding.

That’s the latest update delivered by officials of the 16,800-student Lakota Schools during a Wednesday evening online community chat.

Lakota treasurer Jenni Logan said the district estimates it will spend $2.6 million more than it will bring in. The state cut the district’s funding by $3.8 million, she said.

“So, without that cut we would not be in a spending deficit situation. If you move all the way out to the fifth year of the forecast, we are estimating a $11.7 million spending deficit based on the assumptions we are making at this time,” Logan told Lakota Board of Education members and school parents participating in the community discussion.

Lakota’s annual operating budget is $184 million.

Under Ohio school law, districts are annually required to do two, five-year budget projections ― one in May and one in November.

The financial forecasts, however, are often problematic ― even in the better times of no global pandemic ― due to the state’s changing formulation of biennium budgets and uncertain school funding levels in two-year increments.

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With Lakota operating in-person classes at its 22 schools and all the extra expenses the district has incurred since all Ohio schools were impacted by the COVID-19 virus in March, the district’s cost of operations has increased, said Logan, making forecasts even more difficult.

“Trying to project beyond this year, even this month, is difficult at this time. Being in a spending deficit situation means we are having to rely on our cash reserves which we have been fortunate enough to build up over the past eight years,” said Logan.

Logan, and other Lakota officials, emphasized there is no discussion, or other consideration, to seek more local tax revenue through a proposed levy. Rather, they said, the financial community discussion was conducted as part of the district’s transparency regarding its financial state and what Lakota is reporting to state officials.

She reported Lakota in 2019 had a per-pupil expenditure of $9,859, which was less than other comparable, large enrollment school districts ― with similar demographics ― such as Mason ($10,470) in Warren County and Princeton ($10,335) and Sycamore ($12,155) in northern Hamilton County.

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Lakota school parent Samuel Jonovski participated in the online discussion and said overall he is pleased with the district is handling both student learning and finances during the unprecedented pandemic.

“I give Lakota a lot of credit. Overall the process has been working great,” Jonovski told district officials.

Fellow school parent Alicia Temmesfeld told officials she considers the proper way to look at Lakota’s uncertain financial state, and its looming budget shortfall, is to keep the realities of schooling during coronavirus in mind.

“This is pandemic spending. This isn’t deficit spending,” said Temmesfeld.

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