Ross Schools to face major decisions as funding in question

Levy failure spurs district to talk budget cuts.

In the wake of a second, consecutive tax levy defeat Ross School officials said Thursday evening the coming weeks will see them begin talks about budget cuts in Butler County’s top academic performing district.

And the district’s financial officer also told Ross’ governing board during its meeting that it faces a looming budget deficit starting in 2025 and worsening in subsequent years if no new local tax revenue can be generated.

Another tax levy may be headed to the May ballot but its final size hasn’t been determined, said officials.

Add to these challenges the coming partial state takeover of some of Ross’ financial operations ― due to levy ballot losses in August and earlier this month — and school system is entering unprecedented times going into 2023.

The takeaway, said Ross Interim Treasurer Jenni Logan, is major decisions will have to be made soon.

And some school residents said the future of Ross Schools also has them concerned.

“The main message is we are in a financial crisis,” said Logan.

“We failed our levies and now we are looking at the next steps. And we’re going to have a condensed timeline to look at those next steps and options,” adding if the Ross Board of Education does decide to ask voters in May for another vote on a tax hike, the deadline to file for that ballot is Feb. 1.

Logan presented the state-mandated, five-year budget projection to the school board during the board meeting. Under Ohio law, the state begins to play a supervisory role regarding financial decisions should a local district be unable to increase school taxes via the ballot.

“In 2025 we are showing a (budget) deficit. Because of that deficit in the third year (of the five-year projection) we are in (state) precautionary status,” she said of the first of four state categories for the process of interceding and increased takeover of school operations by state education officials.

“In the next few months we are going to be looking at things in more detail,” Logan said of the array of possible program and personnel budget cuts some of which the district has already publicized.

Among the reductions being considered to date are cuts in some bus service, fewer advanced academic courses and eliminating art, music and physical education classes, district officials have said.

Ross Superintendent Chad Konkle said the district has employed many methods via the district’s website and other means to tell residents about the district’s financial woes since last year.

“School finance is a very complicated topic as we all know and we are trying to make it simple,” said Konkle, who added as of now it appears Ross residents will be deciding on another proposed property tax increase on the May ballot.

Ross school resident Penny Webster voted “yes” on the last two levies and said she is worried about the future of the district.

Webster said while Ross has weathered financial struggles in past years, but she is more concerned this time around in part because of the nation’s high inflation rate and the impact on all families.

“It’s a very difficult mountain to climb and we are just going to have to figure out a new strategy” to convince voters to raise their school taxes, she said.

School parent Tammi Almond shares those concerns and said further ballot rejections of higher school taxes “is just going to hurt the kids in the long run.”

“Just thinking about what could happen to the schools, teachers and staff. Ross is a really good school district … my concern is really high now,” said Almond.

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