September 18, 2014

Elyria
Mostly cloudy
52°F
test

Local school districts getting casino money

Lorain County school districts will divide more than $1 million in casino tax revenue, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

The money is the first round of payments to school districts under a tax-revenue-sharing plan implemented after Ohio voters approved the construction of four casinos. So far, casinos in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo have opened and the fourth, in Cincinnati, is slated to open later this year.

Statewide, school districts will receive just shy of $38 million.

In Lorain County, the biggest winner is Lorain Schools, which will see a windfall of $142,638.

In the context of the Lorain Schools’ approximately $90 million general fund budget, the casino money the district will receive is relatively small but, “any additional revenue is a plus,” school board President Tim Williams said.

Superintendent Tom Tucker said the money will be used to reduce the district’s $4.7 million projected deficit. Due to competition from charter schools, open enrollment and population decreases, the approximately 7,500-student district has lost about 3,000 students in the last decade.

Each student brings in about $5,700 in state taxpayer money. The decrease forced layoffs of 182 employees last year and major program reductions as part of $7.3 million in cuts.

Voters in November approved a seven-year, 4.8 million levy that will raise $3.12 million annually and — at least temporarily — prevent insolvency and a state takeover. However, levy collection delays and the possibility of more enrollment decreases mean more money is always welcome.

“It’s extra funds that you have that you can use and we definitely need it,” Tucker said.

Following close on Lorain’s heels is Elyria Schools, which will take in $136,113.

The district failed to pass a levy in November, and school officials have warned that $3 million in cuts may be necessary to balance the budget.

Avon Schools will get $87,298, followed by North Ridgeville Schools, which will take in $84,715. Amherst Schools will receive $83,094, while Avon Lake Schools will see a $78,681 boon.

Not every district will see such large numbers. Columbia Schools, for instance, will see an infusion of $18,886, but Superintendent Graig Bansek said that’s still good news.

“Right now, we’ll take everything we can get,” he said.

The district, which has a budget of around $10.6 million, is already considering roughly $400,000 in cuts later this year, in addition to $1.9 million in reductions that have been made over the last three years, Bansek said.

He said the school board voted Tuesday to move ahead with a new levy for operating expenses, although the final figures have not yet been determined.

Right now, Bansek said, the district is doing what it can to cut costs and raise revenues. He said Columbia Schools just sold a vacant piece of property donated to the district in the 1960s for $90,000 and the school board is trying to sell another piece of land as well.

He said Columbia isn’t alone in grappling with deficits.

Midview Schools, which will receive $66,990 in casino revenue, is asking voters in February to approve a 9.75-mill levy that will bring in $4.6 million annually. The casino money is a fraction of the district’s roughly $28.5 million budget.

Without the levy, approximately 50 Midview Schools employees, including 20 teachers, will be laid off, and the district plans to shorten the length of the school day and eliminate programs ranging from athletics to art and music classes to close a $2.3 million budget hole, district officials have said.

School districts aren’t alone in receiving funds from the state’s casino revenue. Lorain County itself also will get $698,404 in revenue in the third round of money distributed to the counties and cities across the state, also announced Tuesday.

But county Commissioner Ted Kalo said the figure released Tuesday for the county is short of the more than $750,000 he and others had hoped to see in the first of four payouts this year. Ideally, he said, the figure would have been closer to $1 million.

He said the county’s 2013 general fund budget is based on the expectation that about $4 million would flow in from the casinos. Although another casino has yet to debut, Kalo said the county is already starting the year down from its expectations.

The county received roughly $788,000 in casino revenue last year.

What they’ll get

  • Lorain: $142,638
  • Elyria: $136,113
  • Avon: $87,298
  • North Ridgeville: $84,715
  • Amherst: $83,094
  • Avon Lake: $78,681
  • Midview: $66,990
  • Sheffield-Sheffield Lake: $37,186
  • Clearview: $36,935
  • Keystone: $34,865
  • Lorain County JVS: $32,606
  • Firelands: $30,242.58
  • Wellington: $24,323
  • Oberlin: $21,709
  • Columbia: $18,886
  • Vermilion: $15,979
  • Black River: $4,350

County district total: $1,011,327

Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story. Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.