Graham officials face declining reserves and revenue

By Casey S. Elliott -

ST. PARIS – Graham Local Schools officials are developing contingency plans as they monitor predicted declines in their future budgets.

The school board discussed the district’s finances at a work session Monday.

The district has kept a $6 million cash reserve within the last couple of years, but estimated state funding reductions are expected to eat into that reserve. The school board’s strategic plan, Graham 2020, identifies areas in which to invest – staff, additional programs and resources for students.

If state funding declines the estimated $500,000 over the next biennium, as Treasurer Judy Geers is predicting from the latest budget in the Ohio legislature, the district will have to make adjustments: Waiting to add programs and staff, not replacing staff who leave, and potentially waiting to do nonessential repairs and maintenance.

“A lot of this is completely out of our control,” Geers told the board Monday, noting the state in past years kept funding flat for the district. She assumed it would continue to do so, but said it appears the state is penalizing districts that do not increase enrollment.

The district is seeking a new earned income tax operating expenses levy, estimated to raise $1.9 million annually, for the November election. The levy originally would have funded some of those new priorities – additional staff and programs – but officials say now it may just be needed to maintain what the district currently has in place.

In the past few years, the district has added two middle school English teachers, combined two part-time athletic director positions into a full-time one; increased the dean of students to full time; added part-time English and Social Studies teachers, two intervention specialists, a guidance counselor, kindergarten teacher, first grade teacher, literacy coach; increased the hours and days for the transportation secretary; added a part-time secretary for the curriculum director and summer help for maintaining the grounds. The district also added a literacy coach, school nurse, and part-time funding for electives at the high school.

Additional personnel are planned for the upcoming school year, which include two new education coordinators and a half-day dean of students at the elementary school. The curriculum director position is being removed to cover part of that, and a network coordinator is replacing the maintenance technician position.

“We are spending at a level now which is in line with our expectations for Graham 2020,” Board President Steve Setty said.

Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said staff are continuing to look at ways to trim the budget and bring in new revenue. He said staff have been working extra hours to find grants to fund some of the programs the district wants, which will benefit students.

But if the new levy does not pass, the district will need to look at places to cut.

“We would be looking, in general, at reviewing all of our vendor contracts and agreements,” he said. “We would look at facilities and maintenance operations savings first.”

By Casey S. Elliott

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.