December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain Schools facing $2.8 million deficit

LORAIN — Passage of a levy in 2012 allowed Lorain Schools to avoid bankruptcy and a state financial takeover, but red ink is on the horizon again.

The school district faces a projected $2.85 million deficit in 2015, Treasurer Dale Weber told Board of Education members at their Monday meeting.

Weber said the deficit is primarily due to students leaving the 6,600-member school district because of charter schools, open enrollment and school vouchers. Lorain has lost about 3,500 students in the last decade, he said.

Weber, making his semi-annual five-year financial forecast, said the deficit is based on a worst-case scenario in which Lorain continues to lose about 500 students annually and state funding remains level. He said Lorain has averaged an approximately 2.5 percent funding increase annually from the state, $1.5 million to $2 million more yearly.

Under the forecast, an $8.9 million deficit is projected for 2016. It balloons to $19.7 million in 2017 and nearly $34.4 million in 2018.

The deficits are based on Lorain Schools’ reliance on state taxpayer money, Weber said. The district receives about $5,700 in state money per student. Lorain, which has a $93 million general fund budget, expects to lose about $25.4 million in student funding this year due to competition.

“We have to increase enrollment in Lorain City Schools,” Weber said. “We have some work to do.”

Superintendent Tom Tucker said the way the Ohio Department of Education counts students penalizes Lorain Schools. The annual count takes place in October.

Tucker said many students who leave for charters or open enrollment at the start of the school year in August return after October, but are still counted as having left.

Tucker said the department plans to begin doing three counts annually beginning in the 2014-15 school year which will more accurately reflect enrollment. Tucker said the new Lorain High School, scheduled to open in August 2016, could boost enrollment. And new teachers who earn less than retiring teachers expected to leave in June will reduce costs.

However, Tucker said after the meeting that he hasn’t ruled out layoffs.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.