Like some of its fellow Butler County school systems, Fairfield has begun discussions on its financial future and how to overcome projected budget shortfalls, including using some cuts in programs and personnel.
The Fairfield Board of Education recently heard a presentation from Superintendent Billy Smith, who described his overview look at the 10,000-student district’s finances as a first of a two-part discussion with the board to be followed up during an early March board meeting.
“We want to educate our board and our community about our financial status,” said Smith. “As well as share a plan on how the district intends to address that status through cost-cuttings measures over the coming years.”
Smith said the district is exploring budgets reductions with “minimized impact on teaching and learning,” for the school system that draws students from both the city of Fairfield and Fairfield Twp.
Similar to other area districts, Fairfield is facing the approaching end of millions of dollars in federal aid provided since the March 2020 onset of the historically disruptive COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith told the school board those ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) monies will run out by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
“We recognize we can’t continue to provide all those services we have been providing because it (ESSER funds) is not sustainable … and we weren’t able to provide those services before ESSER funds.”
Smith said more local tax revenue funding will eventually be needed to offset the loss of federal dollars as well to make up for chronically inadequate state funding via an Ohio local school funding process repeatedly declared “unconstitutional” by the state’s supreme court decades ago.
“We find ourselves in the same situation that many other school districts in Ohio have found themselves. And this is not about needing more (local tax) revenue so we can do more. It’s about needing more revenue so we can continue to do what we are doing right now.”
Nancy Lane, treasurer for Fairfield Schools, told the board the district’s cash balance is projected to run out by end of July 2025 “if we do nothing,” forcing even deeper budget cuts.
Like most Ohio public school districts, labor costs compose the majority of Fairfield’s operating budget given the labor-intensive nature of educating K-12 students. Fairfield’s labor costs are 77% of its annual operating budget.
Some of the budget cost savings will come from upcoming employee attrition, said Fairfield officials.
Fairfield’s last operating tax levy requested and approved by voters came in 2011, when residents approved a 6.5-mill property school tax that was projected to last about three years but has helped the district met its financial needs for more than 11 years.
Smith said this initial presentation was designed to give the school community “a better understanding of our financial situation and how we plan to address that in the future.”
Discussions on possible tax issues for an upcoming ballot date, and proposed the mileage amounts for the school board to consider, are scheduled to continue at the board’s next meeting on March 2.
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