Licking Heights, a district made up of five buildings serving 3,400 kids is facing severe challenges — unfortunately not uncommon among Ohio school districts. Facing declining tax revenues and the loss of revenue as a result of state lawmakers eliminating the tangible personal property tax in 2005, the district has been forced to cut $3.5 million since 2008.
The district has already taken cost-savings measures including charging students fees to participate in sports and activities, and it has held off hiring even as enrollment swelled, resulting in higher class sizes.
Now, the district is coping with the loss of another $1.3 million in what was an overall $1.8 billion reduction in education funding in the last two-year state budget. The cuts have forced the district to reexamine its ability to maintain programs in the face of new, looming deficits, necessitating another $2.3 million in spending cuts in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
The District has placed a 5-year, 8.9-mill emergency operating levy on the November ballot that would generate $4.3 million per year. The levy will cost taxpayers $272 per year on a $100,000 home. If the levy passes, the district will stay in the red for the next five years. If it fails, more cuts are on the way, including $2.3 million in the next two years — an amount that would be significantly reduced were the state funding cuts
Among the items on the chopping block are at least 16 teachers, including 2 in the gifted program, intervention specialists, health aides, librarians as well as guidance, foreign language, custodial and central office staff.
In practical terms, the cuts mean that class sizes will grow to 30 at the elementary level and 35 in middle and high school. High school students will no longer be eligible for bus transportation, adding to the burdens of district parents. Field trips will be eliminated and pay to pay fees will jump from $75 to $300 per activity.
These challenges are not unique to Licking Heights. Parents and kids across the state are seeing the same effects of financial neglect from the state. Elective courses are disappearing, activities have become prohibitively expensive, and good luck getting to and from school. The Governor has promised to create the best school funding system in the nation, set to be unveiled with the next two-year state budget early in 2013. Licking Heights parents as well as their peers statewide are likely holding their breath hoping they will not be the ones asked to foot the bill.