“When I first came here about four years ago, we were supposed to be in the negative today (based on projections then), but we’re not, because no treasurer can see five years into the future,” Al-Hamdani said. “Sometimes these negative numbers will scare people, but this may not come true if things change.”
Just comparing DPS’ new forecast to the one from six months ago shows an example of how schools often project their finances to be more dire than they end up. With just six weeks to go in the year, DPS’ 2021-22 revenues are now estimated to finish at $278.3 million, up $4.5 million from the November estimate. Full-year expenditures are projected at $285.2 million, $2.2 million lower than six months ago.
Abraha, Al-Hamdani, teachers union President David Romick and a host of others said the biggest uncertainty right now is the ongoing two-year budget debate in the state legislature.
A new budget will take effect July 1 and will determine how much state aid goes to public schools. The version of the state budget passed last month by the House would increase DPS’ state funding next year by $2.6 million. But the Senate has voiced multiple objections to that plan, so school funding remains in limbo.
While state funding makes up a relatively small percentage of the annual budget for richer districts, Dayton and other low-wealth districts rely heavily on money from Columbus. Because thousands of K-12 students in Dayton attend charter schools (or private schools via state vouchers), the debate over the funding model for those programs could also have a major effect on DPS.
Dayton Public Schools has already announced some major new projects to be funded by the $130 million in federal aid. A three-year, $17.7 million contract will pay First Student to bus Dayton’s charter and private school kids. And the district is hiring dozens of extra teachers to double its staffing at the youngest grade levels in DPS buildings, in an effort to create an academic turnaround.
There’s still uncertainty in many school districts on how ESSER funding will be used and what long-term impact it will make on overall budgets. But Abraha said not to expect DPS’ general fund budget issues to be solved by the windfall.
“We are planning which amounts we’re going to use and what stuff we’re going to use for ESSER,” Abraha said. “We know. That’s the reason I forecasted the way I forecasted.”