Beaver Local’s finances look good for now

CALCUTTA — The Beaver Local school district’s finances are looking good for the foreseeable future, provided voters approve a renewal operating levy come November.

That was the message delivered at this week’s school board meeting from Treasurer Stacy Williams, who reported the district is expected to end the school year on June 30 with $780,322 carry-over balance, a $512,000 increase over the previous year. The balance is projected to grow to $1.1 million by the end of the next school year.

The figures were part of the five-year financial forecast she presented to the board. The state requires school treasurers to prepare financial forecasts every May and October.

Despite the good news, Williams warned the district would be in a deficit situation come 2020 should voters fail to renew a 5.3-mill operating levy the board will put on the November general election ballot. The levy generates $1.2 million per year and is used for general operations.

“Without that $1.2 million we very much depend on, you will see that cash balance depleted quickly,” she told the board.

The five-year levy does not expire until the end of 2019, and November is the earliest it could be put on the ballot. Williams said they are starting early to give themselves two more chances at getting it passed should voters decline to renew the levy, which only passed by three votes in 2014.

School Superintendent Eric Lowe said several factors contributed to their healthy balance, including enacting cost-cutting measures over the past two years, such as eliminating positions when staff retired or quit. The district also began bringing some mandated services back in house rather than continuing to contract with Columbiana County Educational Service Centers, which has resulted in a significant savings.

The district spending for this year is expected to top out at $18.4 million, $130,000 less than the 2016-27 school year. Employee salaries and benefits account for 71 percent of all spending, and Williams said health insurance costs increased 15 percent this year and are expected to increase 12 percent and 9 percent the next two years. The dental plan was redesigned and that will save $20,000, and employees are paying 1 percent more for premiums, saving $29,000.

Williams said they were fortunate the district did not lose any state funding as originally projected under the new two-year state funding formula. State funding accounts for 56 percent of Beaver Local’s revenue, “so when the state makes a change it can really affect our bottom line,” she said.

Board member Lance Shultz again commented on the inherent unfairness of the state funding formula that for some reason penalizes school districts such as Beaver Local, which lost money two years ago and is receiving no additional state dollars during the current two-year cycle.

Southern Local is receiving no additional state funding and United Local is the only district projected to lose funding. Shultz noted every other district in the county is receiving additional state funding, “which doesn’t make sense. It jut puts schools like us in a difficult situation.”

During the work session held prior to the meeting, Lowe said they are looking into other ways to become more energy efficient and reduce the district electric bill, which was $306,054 for the past 12 months. The district enacted some measures last year, which saved $17,000, and the savings would have been even greater but for a 50 cent per kilowatt hour increase in their electric bill.

A board member noted other districts have switched to all LED lighting, which will pay for itself over time because of the savings. When the new school complex was built several years ago, LED lighting was excluded because of the cost, and Lowe said this is something they could do in phases due to the expense.