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Schools should tighten their belts before asking for more

May 20, 2012
Morning Journal News

School districts which consider placing levies on ballots before taking serious belt-tightening measures may risk losing credibility with their residents.

We bring this up because two Columbiana County school districts in recent weeks have issued amended five-year funding plans which show improved finances after levies had been considered.

Voters in the East Palestine district in 2010 defeated a 6.8 mill operating levy. The board had placed the levy on the ballot to off-set a projected $700,000 budget deficit by the end of the 2010-11 school year.

At a recent school board meeting, East Palestine's treasurer gave a presentation to explain how the district's balance had increased instead of decreasing despite the levy's defeat. Treasurer Rick Ellis attributed the turnaround to a lot of belt-tightening and more than $500,000 in one-time money.

In the case of the Columbiana school district, the board changed its mind after voting to placing a $1 million tax levy before voters this August. The decision was based on changes to the five-year forecast that boosted the district into a positive fund balance. Here again, the forecast change was attributed to unexpected funding increases and belt-tightening measures.

Superintendent Don Mook said, "I think from a school district standpoint we have to continue to say we are not going to ask for something unless we absolutely need it."

"I think we all agree that this is premature. We owe it to the taxpayers and residents of this school district not to ask for funds at this time when we are showing a positive balance," Board Member Mark Hutson said.

The Lisbon school district, on the other hand, upon learning that finances are dwindling and it could face a deficit in four years, decided to turn to cutbacks first before even considering hitting up the voters for more money.

Lisbon Superintendent Donald Thompson and Treasurer Cindy Altomare agreed at a recent meeting that approaching voters first was not the best route. Seeking additional levy revenue should be done only after the board has done everything else within its power to cut costs.

Crying wolf too soon and too often can be disastrous for school districts' credibility and it may haunt them at the ballot box in the future when they have a genuine need for more revenue.



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