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Published: Thursday, 10/21/2004

Panel lauds TPS spending cuts

Toledo Public School District has done a good job of cutting expenses, but the district needs to increase revenues to avoid deficits in the next few years, members of an independent budget review committee said last night.

"You're controlling your spending extremely well," Stephen Staelin, chairman of the financial oversight committee, said. "It's the revenue side that needs to be addressed."

Mr. Staelin said the oversight committee will talk with the state auditor's office and hopes to have a report for the district within two weeks.

District officials presented details of their proposed five-year financial forecast to the financial oversight committee during a four-hour meeting last night at the Oakdale Elementary swing space.

"You should be commended for the progress that you've made," committee member Peter Kelley said.

The forecast projects a deficit of $55 million by the end of the 2008-09 school year.

Included in the financial projection is the passage of Issue 35, the district's renewal levy, on Nov. 2. That levy, district officials emphasize, is not a new tax. It has brought in $15.7 million a year since it was first passed in 1991.

Oversight committee member Edward McNeal said the district should get the message to the public that there is a need for additional funding.

The district pays most teachers and principals less than many comparable districts in the state, and can't cut salaries or staffing levels much further, committee member Arlene Wilson said.

The district's financial problems stem from a decline in state funding and lower enrollment. The district depends on the state for 62.2 percent of its revenue. Local taxes contribute only 33.1 percent.

The forecast assumes no increase in state funding next school year, 1 percent the year after that, and 2 percent each of the following two years.

State officials have said the lack of an increase for next year could be "optimistic," treasurer James Fortlage said.

The district hopes to regain students from charter schools and hopes that economic development could turn around the city's population decline.

Dan Burns, district business manager, said the schools' continuous improvement rating, the highest of the state's large urban districts, and the new buildings should help draw students back.

Last year, the new financial oversight committee recommended the district cut its health-care costs.

In a contract extension signed last spring, the district instituted changes that include co-pays for office visits and some monthly contributions to premiums. Those changes should save the district $4.7 million over 15 months. Officials said five months into that period, they are on track.

The district is cutting expenses in dozens of areas ranging from heating automation to paper and printing. "We try to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Mr. Burns said.

The school board's finance committee will discuss the five-year forecast Oct. 25, and the whole board will vote on its adoption Oct. 26.



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