December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Schools’ five-year financial forecast positive

ELYRIA — Five years without having to implement an aggressive reduction plan to cut millions from the budget is not something Elyria Schools Treasurer Fred Stephens thought he would ever be able to project for the district.

Yet, with weeks left until the district’s financial head’s retirement, that is what his parting gift will be. On Wednesday night, the Elyria school board heard the district’s five-year financial forecast and, for the first time in almost a decade, it had good news.

At the current level of expenditures, revenue, levies and state funding, the cash balance for the district should stay between $5 million and $9 million until 2018.

Ernie Straw, a consultant with Public Finance Resources Inc., delivered the news. Stephens smiled. He can recall the years of slashing the budget so deep hundreds of positions were lost and schools were closed.

“If we have to go into reduction mode again, I don’t know where we would get that $3 (million) or $4 million to make those cuts. That’s why you have to be very mindful of this budget in the coming years,” Straw said to board members.

Straw said Elyria is not flush with cash.

This year, the ending balance will be $8.4 million and next year it jumps to $9.5 million. But 2016 will start a slow trend of the district spending slightly more money each month than it brings in as revenue.

“To have $9.5 million in the bank is OK,” he said. “It’s a little more than 10 percent of your overall budget. But keep in mind, an average month’s expenses is about $6 million.”

Basically, Elyria has to remain conservative, Straw said.

By 2018, the cash balance will be $5.7 million with the district spending $2.5 million over projected revenue.

Board President Don Boddy said to do anything else would be wrong to the voters. They have stomached deep cuts, kept their confidence and passed levies along the way.

“They have been very generous to us, giving us renewal after renewal. We thank them over and over again by doing our job,” he said.

Straw said Elyria can’t and shouldn’t count on state funding to bail them out in the future. While a slight bump in state funding was given to Elyria in the last biennial budget, Elyria is in a middle zone where funding can go up or down.

“Your success factor is in not being afraid to do what you have to (to) independently manage your situation,” he said.

In other news

The board unanimously passed a resolution supporting the idea of more local control for schools. The symbolic legislation speaks to the many federal changes districts are being asked to implement — many of them at the same time and with so little funding provided to support implementation.

“We need control over what we are doing,” said Superintendent Paul Rigda. “It’s not so much that we disagree with our federal government is doing or saying, but it’s coming at us too fast with us to have no control. We have to have a voice in what we are doing.”

Today, Lorain County’s superintendents are holding an educational summit at Lorain County Community College hosted by the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce to discuss local control and other issues stemming from a survey of voters.

The poll, conducted by Burges & Burges Strategists of Cleveland, surveyed 620 registered voters in Lorain County on educational matters such as academic achievement, high-stakes testing, public perception of local school districts and teachers and support for public preschool programs.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.