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Perrysburg board mulls a new tax for schools

Facing a potential $2 million shortfall in 2003, the Perrysburg board of education is considering funding options for the district, including the possibility of placing an operating levy on the ballot.

Dr. Louis Weinstein, board president, said yesterday that “no decision has been made to deal with the potential deficit.” Options will be discussed during the board's Feb. 6 meeting, officials said.

Asking voters to approve an operating levy is just one option under consideration, Dr. Weinstein said. Another would be to increase the district's income tax.

Voters in the Perrysburg district have not been asked to approve additional operating funds since 1991, when the 0.5 percent income tax was approved.

“We are looking at all options,” Dr. Weinstein said, including decreasing expenses. “Everything is on the table for discussion.”

According to the board's five-year fiscal forecast, the district's projected spending will exceed its projected revenue.

The fiscal year 2002 budget lists spending at $30.8 million, up from fiscal 2001 spending of $30.3 million. Anticipated revenue for 2002 was set at $28 million, down from $29.2 million in 2001.

The projected 2002 budget shows the unencumbered fund balance at about $250,000, compared to about $3 million for 2001. In fiscal 2003, the unreserved fund balance is projected as a deficit of about $2.1 million. A deficit of about $5.5 million is projected in 2005.

District Treasurer James Larson-Shidler noted that the projected deficit figures do not include potential salary increases that might be granted to teachers. Contract negotiations with the teachers will be held later this year, officials said.

Projected figures for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 are “pretty iffy,” considering that state legislators are still debating the school funding issue, the superintendent, Dr. Sharon Zimmers, said.

Perrysburg voters have OK'd about 52 operating mills for schools, but only 20.6 mills are being collected because millage is rolled back.

Property tax collections continue to be reduced, and millage does not keep up with inflation, Dr. Zimmers said. At the same time, the district's health care costs and salaries are increasing. “We have gone 10 years without a major increase in revenue. We have tightened the belt, but you can only do that for so long,” she said.

When the income tax was passed, school officials indicated that it would be at least three years before additional operating funds would be needed. “Here we are coming up on 10 years,” Dr. Zimmers said.

Student enrollment also plays a part in school funding because a school district with an increasing number of students receives more state funds, explained Mr. Larson-Shidler. With no enrollment growth in the last two years, the Perrysburg district has received no increase in state funding, he said. “We are not getting an increase from the state as we did in prior years,” he said.

The filing deadline for placing issues on the May ballot is Feb. 22.

School officials are “looking at everything” as they review the district's financial situation, said board member John Kevern. “Before we think of a levy, we need a clear indication of where we are,” he said.

School officials are looking at the possibility of implementing an open-enrollment program to help increase the district's revenue. The school has not had an open-enrollment policy because of space limitations, Mr. Kevern said. When a high school opens this fall, additional space will be available. If students from other districts attend Perrysburg under an open-enrollment plan, the “state money comes with the kids,” he said.

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