December 21, 2014

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Lorain school district predicts budget surplus

LORAIN — Two years ago, Lorain Schools faced huge deficits and an imminent state financial takeover, but the school district’s new five-year financial forecast is sunnier.
“I’m showing some positive numbers for the first time in a long time,” Treasurer Dale Weber told Board of Education members at their Tuesday meeting.

Weber said Lorain will start the school year next week with a $1.8 million surplus, which includes a $600,000 carryover surplus from the 2012-13 school year. The surplus plunges to a projected $11,000 for the 2014-15 school year. That’s largely because of repaying borrowing costs for a $3 million loan taken out after passage of a seven-year levy in November that raises $3.12 million annually. The surplus rises to a projected $2.4 million in 2015-16 and $1.8 million in 2016-17.

The financial rebound has been painful. Lorain cut 182 positions and some popular programs in 2012 to eliminate about $7.3 million of a
$12 million deficit.

The levy — the first new levy approved by voters since 1992 — helped restore some programs and dozens of teachers have been recalled due to resignations and retirements.
More state taxpayer money also helped fix finances for the district which has a nearly $92 million annual budget. Board members have been critical of the Republican-led Legislature for cutting business taxes that went to schools and expanding charter schools, open enrollment and school voucher programs, which siphon money from public schools.

However, board members are pleased with increased state money from legislators in the new biennial budget. Weber said state revenue will increase by $3.9 million in 2014 and
$7 million in 2015.

Nonetheless, board members aren’t breaking out champagne. Weber forecasts a $2.1 million deficit for 2017-18, and it balloons to $9.5 million in 2018-19.

Weber said the projected red ink is primarily because of dropping enrollment in a district that has shrunk from about 10,000 to 7,000 students in the last decade. Weber said Lorain — which receives about $5,700 in state money per student — loses an average of 250 to 300 students per year to charters, open enrollment and vouchers, costing it about $21 million annually.

To retain and recruit students, board members are trying to better promote the district. A full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Chronicle-Telegram touted Lorain’s early college program and free breakfast and lunch programs. A $73 million new high school, scheduled to open in 2016, is also seen as a potential draw.

Despite long-term fiscal uncertainty, board member Bill Sturgill said there is reason for optimism. He praised voters for approving the levy as well as the levy committee and committee chairwoman Bambi Dillon.

“We were sitting on the edge,” said Sturgill, a levy committee member. “Now we have a surplus for three years out, which I think is great.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.