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School District Could Be in $10.5M Budget Hole by 2015

Treasurer Rick Berdine said "no easy answers" to budget problems.

Lakewood City Schools Treasurer Rick Berdine’s presentation at Monday’s Board of Education meeting adopted a refrain of hope.

“I hope I’m wrong,” he said, more than once.

In his Five-Year Financial Forecast presented at , Berdine said the district’s operating deficit will be $1.5 million this year, and will grow to about $10.5 million by 2015, thanks to lost revenues from property taxes, state and federal funding, and charter schools.

“I cringed putting these numbers up here,” Berdine said.

The calculations cannot, by law, include projections for future levies, and did not make any proposed cuts to the $70 million budget.

The calamitous economy has dealt a serious blow to the district’s coffers.

In 2008, the district lost $350,000 in residential property taxes inside Lakewood’s 5.03 mills, because of declining home values, Berdine said.

He projected further annual declines of 8 percent and 6.5 percent for residential and commercial property, respectively, through 2015, eliminating $373,000 per year from the school. On top of that, the county announced it will be reassessing property values next year, and Berdine expects them to further decline.

“I’ve been doing this for 26 years now,” he said. “I’ve never seen this happen.”

Berdine said in 2006, a 1-mill levy would increase the district’s revenues by $986,000 annually. In 2011, it would generate $906,000.

Policies coming from Columbus also have hit the district hard.

Gov. John Kasich’s budget will slash the district's funding by an estimated by 2015, Berdine said, accounting for all of the money generated by the recent levies.  The budget includes eliminating special education catastrophe funding and not covering any of the expired federal stimulus money from Pres. Barack Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

"In the past, they've typically left schools unaffected," he said. "This year we got ours, and we got it pretty significantly."

Berdine also said House Bill 136, which would give parents who wish to send their children to a private charter school a voucher, would cost the district funding. Last year, the district lost 149 students to charter schools, and $978,000 in funding.

“This bill is a further attack on revenues for districts like Lakewood,” he said.

He even weighed in on .

“All the commercials tell you (Senate Bill 5) is about pensions and salaries,” he said. “Well, it’s got a whole lot more in there.”

If the referendum passes, and the bill becomes law, schools would be required to develop new teacher evaluation methods, based 50 percent on student evaluations. Berdine said other districts “are not adequately staffed” to develope, test and implement those evaluations.

“I think there are a lot of hidden costs in that bill,” he said.

But the numbers weren’t all red.

Berdine said the school got a $100,000 grant from the state for being rated “,” and expects the district to save nearly $1 million by replacing senior, retiring teachers with younger ones.

Any way you slice it, the Board has some tough decisions to make, and Berdine said there are “no easy anwers.”

“But we’re an excellent school district,” he said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of that when we’re talking about money.”

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