- Michael D. Clark Staff Writer
Lakota Schools officials are projecting a balanced budget through 2020 and a rising cash balance that could potentially sustain the district through 2026.
Though that financial scenario could suggest Lakota stays off the ballot with any new tax increase until 2026, district officials cautioned that is unlikely.
Lakota officials’ original public statement Friday included this sentence: “That means, even with deficit spending predicted in 2020, the district’s cash balance could potentially sustain the district through 2026.”
But later Friday school officials revised that line and said instead: “There is no way to predict the timing of another levy, but our raising cash balance could help offset any deficit spending through 2026.”
The largest suburban school system in Southwest Ohio and the eighth largest in the state is facing a relatively smooth financial stretch, said officials, compared to a decade ago.
The main reason is voters’ approval in 2013 of a new operating tax levy — at the time it was the first new operating levy to win over voters since 2005.
Ohio’s 613 public school districts are required to make public their five-year budget projections twice a year — in October and May.
“While the forecast predicts the first instance of deficit spending in 2020, that deficit has shrunk even since the last forecast,” said Jenni Logan, treasurer for the 16,500-student district.
“Our goal is always to continue that trend to extend the balanced budget as long as possible. There’s no way to predict the timing of the next levy, but it is important to note that our rising cash balance, attributed to cost saving efforts, could sustain us beyond any deficit spending,” Logan said.
Lakota’s annual operating budget is $156 million.
The wild-card for any Ohio school district’s five-year projections are the state’s biennium budgets, which can comprise as much as 40 percent of some school systems’ education funding.
The next biennium budget is due to be completed by the Ohio Legislature on June 30, 2017.
Lakota has had a balanced budget since 2013.
Logan said the balanced budget since 2013, paired with a growing list of cost containment practices, has supported a rising cash balance that has grown from less than 60 days in 2013 to more than 160 days in 2016.
That means, even with deficit spending predicted in 2020, the district’s cash balance could potentially sustain the district through 2026, she said.
“The conversation is no longer about cutting student programs and services to keep our head above water,” Logan said. “It’s about responsible spending and planning even beyond the next five years to stretch taxpayer dollars.”
“It’s about how to save in our daily operational costs so we can to redirect some of those dollars into the programs that will maximize student opportunities, while also keeping us off the ballot as long as possible,” she said.
Since the last forecast in May 2016, even the predicted spending deficit for 2020 has shrunk from $3.1 million to $900,000. If local and state tax revenues remain fairly stable over the next several years, as predicted, that trend can be attributed to the long-term impact of the district’s cost containment efforts, she said.
Lakota has recently saved more than $6 million in debt from bond repayments and substantial energy usage savings.
A new approach to employee health care benefits has stabilized those costs. And a recently negotiated teacher contract has ensured long-term cost savings and contributed to collective staff wages that are predicted to decline to $93.5 million in 2021, as compared to $96 million in 2010.
Lakota’s Acting Superintendent Robb Voglemann said the budget forecast is good news for local taxpayers, school parents and all others in the district.
“The forecast is just a snapshot in time and always assumes lots of different variables,” Vogelmann said. “But even where some revenues may be unpredictable, our commitment to responsible spending and saving will never waver, and that will take us a long way.”