Dayton Public Schools predict they’ll run out of money in 3 years

The school board meeting room at Dayton Public Schools' new headquarters is named the Wurlitzer Room. It is in the northernmost building of the three-building complex, a structure built in 1926 and originally called the Wurlitzer Building. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

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The school board meeting room at Dayton Public Schools' new headquarters is named the Wurlitzer Room. It is in the northernmost building of the three-building complex, a structure built in 1926 and originally called the Wurlitzer Building. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

District says projects paid for by federal money won’t go away, but they haven’t figured out how to pay for them yet.

Dayton Public Schools’ financial forecast says the district will spend $62 million more than it will take in over the next two school years, then will run out of general fund money in 2024-25 as that deficit spending skyrockets even higher.

DPS expects to end the current fiscal year June 30 with $110.9 million banked in its general fund, according to DPS Treasurer Hiwot Abraha’s forecast. Salary and benefit costs are projected to rise significantly the next two years, cutting into that reserve, but the big deficit comes in 2024-25.

DPS superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the district is unlikely to actually run out of money. She said since 2017, the district’s five-year forecasts have always shown a deficit in years four and five but have never run out of money.

“This is simply because the forecasts change as more information becomes known about the revenues the district will receive and the expenditures that will happen in a particular year,” she said.

Some DPS projects are being paid for with $140 million in federal COVID-19 funding that must be spent by September 2024. Abraha said the district has not yet had discussions with the Board of Education about what revenue sources will be sought to pay for the projects, which the district does not plan to cut after the federal funding runs out.

That means the district is projecting a $73 million deficit for 2024-25 alone, with $205 million in revenue and $278 million in expenditures. School financial forecasts are as much an art as a science, but they must be approved by school boards and submitted to state officials twice a year.

The DPS five-year forecast predicts the district would be in the red by more than $30.8 million by the end of fiscal year 2025 and says the district will need to consider ways to reduce expenditures or find additional revenue before that.

“At this time, the district is solvent,” Lolli said. “It is incorrect to say that the district is running out of money.”

The Board of Education is expected to approve a $230 million general fund budget for next school year at the June 21 board meeting. The general fund is the only part of the budget included in the forecast, and the full Dayton Public Schools budget is more than half a billion dollars.

The budget is expected to be temporary until late September and a second budget could be approved then. Abraha told the board she will be able to see if revenues come in higher than expected at that time and the expenses can be adjusted.

The $230 million budget is smaller than what department heads initially requested, but district officials say they still expect to hire for multiple positions next year.

During a recent school board session Monday, district administrators said they did not plan to cut staff, and school board members said they aren’t interested in seeing staff cuts.

Lolli said she planned to meet with DPS department heads to talk about what items may be able to be delayed, like internet upgrades. The board asked for more specific ways the proposed budget could affect the district.

“Things that don’t hurt instruction, things that don’t hurt staffing, things that keep us moving forward with the momentum that we have,” Lolli told the board. “That’s what we’re looking at.”

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