Steep cuts, levy crucial for Carlisle schools to avoid takeover by state

Carlisle Local Schools may consider eliminating at least one bus route in January as part of $400,000 in potential cuts to keep the district from falling into fiscal emergency status and a takeover by the state.

The Carlisle Board of Education is set to meet Monday to discuss possible further cuts to a district that has already carved out $2.5 million from its $14 million budget over the past four years. Board members have said that everything not mandated by the state is “on the table” to avoid having the state come in and take over the district.

Roger Hardin, assistant director of finance program services with the Ohio Department of Education, stopped by the district Dec. 6 to meet with the superintendent, treasurer and a few school board members. Hardin said the district’s current financial forecast projects deficits that could cause the state auditor to declare Carlisle in “fiscal emergency” by fiscal year 2017.

Hardin, who is the chairman of state-appointed fiscal emergency commissions at Little Miami and Monroe school districts, said immediate cuts could keep Carlisle Schools in the black this school year.

“Our work with the district now is trying to keep that from happening,” he said.

Carlisle voters have not passed a school levy in nearly 15 years, and in November narrowly defeated a 4.9-mill, five-year emergency operating levy that kept the district from collecting $812,000 this school year, district officials said. The school district of 1,750 students in grades K-12 was placed under fiscal caution by the state auditor’s office in 2008.

Superintendent Larry Hook said many potential fee increases and cuts, including busing, would be introduced at Monday’s board meeting. In a previous interview with the Journal, Hook said the district, which employs about 200 people, had “done as much as we can do” and that “further cuts would be devastating.”

Hook said Hardin agreed that the district has “got ourselves cut down to the bare bones.” Still, he said the district plans on “moving forward with a broad series of reductions and fee increases that will be in place by next school year.”

Board Vice President Bryan Dunkman has said the district has students’ best interest at heart.

“We are going to do whatever has the least effect on kids and education,” Dunkman said following a special meeting held Dec. 1.

Some residents say enough cuts have been made already, but others argue further cuts should be made before any thought of raising taxes is considered.

“They shouldn’t make any further cuts. It’s not fair to the kids,” said Lisa O’Donnell, whose son is a senior at Carlisle High School. “I know there’s not a lot of money, but they shouldn’t cut anything at all.”

Steve Lawson, whose child attends Chamberlain Middle School, said a quality education should remain as the district’s main focus. He said a pay-to-play program for sports would be preferable to a tax increase that would force senior citizens to choose whether to buy their medication or pay school taxes.

“Education should be the top priority,” Lawson said. “In my opinion, sports is extra. Kids can always play football and baseball in their backyards. We just can’t have any more tax hikes. We’re just now coming out of a recession and people just can’t afford that.”

But Hook said Carlisle voters would likely see another operating levy on the May ballot.

“We need another source of revenue in order to get us out of the trouble we’re in,” Hook said. “It’s the only thing left to do, other than for us to fall into fiscal emergency, and the state would take over if that were to happen.”

Hardin agreed saying a new levy is usually the only way to significantly increase revenues and prevent deficits.

“The (district’s) end of year surplus is so small that a major incident or downturn could push them into deficit mode,” Hardin said.

Carlisle Schools has earned an “Excellent” rating on the state report card for the last two years, a first for the district.