With Bellbrook-Sugarcreek deficit looming, state proposes drastic cuts

With a deficit looming for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools, representatives from the Ohio Auditor’s Office shared a dozen recommendations to cut district spending.

Auditors combed through the financial books in July because the district projects it will run out of money in two years, and voters in May rejected a 7.5-mill levy.

News Center 7's Monica Castro was at the Thursday night meeting at Bellbrook Middle School, where the 12 recommendations were presented to board and community members to reduce spending by about $3 million a year.

Since 2018, the district has cut $2.3 million. After voters turned down a levy in May, the district eliminated some bus routes and 20 staff positions.

The district is seeking a 5.7-mill operating levy on the March ballot.

Some of the cuts proposed include more staff reductions and cutting funds to or eliminating extracurricular activities. Even if all cuts are implemented, the state said it still likely wouldn’t close the gap.

“The deficit would be starting in (fiscal year) ending in 2021, with a total predicted deficit of the five-year forecast of $10.8 million. That is how we ended up in this district,” said Nicole Bent, deputy director of the Ohio Auditor’s Office.

>> Audit suggests budget cuts to fix Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools’ pending shortfall

In order to get the district back in a better financial state, the state made 12 recommendations to reduce costs:

One of the cuts — eliminating the school’s subsidy of extracurricular activities — would save more than $700,000 a year, but would mean a huge jump in what it could cost students to participate in sports and other activities.

“When you look at the items that are being recommended they are going directly to what the kids are going to be participating in at this point which is what the district tried to avoid the last go-round,” parent Josh Pressnell said.”

The district is not obligated to make any of the reductions proposed by the state.

“We are going to go forward with which of those recommendations we want to put into effect,” Superintendent Douglas Cozad said.

>> Schools weigh further budget cuts

The state’s final recommendation they called an “escalation” option of continuing the staff salary freeze and reducing staff by 10.5% or eliminating 16 full-time teaching jobs.

“Those are pretty dramatic cuts that would forever change the flavor of our school district and would change the high-caliber education that our students are receiving,” Cozad said.

The district will announce which reductions it chooses next month.

“We are at the point we either choose to fix the revenue, or we are going to look at problems we don’t want to look at,” Presser said.

District leaders are focusing on the March 5.7-mill levy that will raise about $3.3 million a year, which leaders say would move them in the right direction.

If approved, it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $200 a year.

If it fails, more reductions would be made from the list submitted to the state.

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