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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Board discusses gloomy budget picture and levy

Toledo Public Schools officials laid out a timeline for setting next year's budget, which could include a possible $13 million shortfall.

At last night's quarterly meeting, Treasurer Jim Fortlage presented a list of possible cuts in state funding based on Gov. Bob Taft's proposed budget and the version of the budget bill that the House passed yesterday.

"The news is not good," he told the board of education.

The district had been projecting a $9 million shortfall. The additional deficit includes a possible loss of $3 million for special needs students from state Medicare funding.

The version of the state budget bill passed by the House cuts that program.

Next year's shortfall could grow larger, depending on the budget approved by the state. The district receives about two-thirds of its overall funding from the state.

The board must pass the budget by July 1. By the end of May, it must approve a five-year financial forecast.

Mr. Fortlage said it would include estimates based on the state budget situation.

"When the state has a cold, we get the flu," Superintendent Eugene Sanders said.

Other possible reductions could occur because of changes in the way student enrollment is counted or a proposal to require a two-thirds majority to increase taxes.

"We'd never pass a levy again," board member David Welch said.

Mr. Fortlage said the district has about $3.7 million in its rainy day fund.

The board will meet with labor unions over the next 60 days to get their input on potential cuts. The three unions have contracts that expire in March, 2006.

The officials also discussed strategies for its levy campaign, which it plans to kick off on Friday.

The district has a five-year, 2.5-mill permanent improvement levy on the May 3 ballot that would replace a 2.5-mill levy that expires at the end of the year.

The new levy would cost the owner of a $75,000 house an additional $27 a year, for a new total of $54 annually, and would generate about $3 million more than the $4.8 million the district currently collects annually.

The levy would help fund some aspects of the district's school construction project, including brick facades and pitched roofs. Most of the funding for the project comes from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. About 23 percent is funded by a 4.99-mill, 28-year levy Toledo voters approved in 2002.

The commission will not provide funding to help the district meet some local code requirements, like extra brick or landscaping.



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