by Daniel M. Romano III, Treasurer & CFO
West Clermont Schools
This past year, West Clermont encountered several major events. Some of them were achievements after much hard work. Others were unavoidable events. All of them had an impact on our fiscal fitness.
We are so thankful to our community for supporting our 7.99 mill emergency operating levy in 2020. In passing this levy, it permitted us as a district to continue our current level of programs and services. It allowed the district to maintain a foundational level of programming with an eye on building the capacity to begin the necessary improvements to enhance student performance.
Just as importantly, bypassing this levy, prevented the state from placing the district in a status of “fiscal distress” due to an ongoing imbalance where our revenue exceeded our expenses—resulting in continually lowering our cash balances.
Quite simply, without the funding from this new levy, the eventual cuts to the district would have been devastating.
COVID-19 brought an abrupt disruption and change of life not only in our homes and workplaces but also in the operations of our schools. In order to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for our students, staff, and any community members entering our facilities, our costs increased in many areas. For example, new cleaning supplies, protective equipment, and cleaning procedures were added to our operating budget. We also anticipate this expense will continue into the next school year. Implementing new learning formats that included remote, online learning, in-classroom with social distancing, and a hybrid combination, brought unplanned costs to our teaching and learning budget. In addition, our ability to cover staff absences due to COVID illnesses and related quarantines became strained and lessened our capacity to fill positions. In short, substitute staff costs became a victim of low supply and increased demand.
These are just a few of the COVID-related challenges to our fiscal fitness.
However, the greatest (and most concerning) of all of our challenges has been the untold learning loss that has occurred with our students. While this cost is unknown, numerous national studies have estimated amounts in the thousands of dollars per student per year for the next few years.
The negotiations during the summer of 2020 brought two unions to the table who understood both our operational and fiscal realities. The West Clermont Education Association (WCEA), represents our teaching and certificated staff, and West Clermont Helping Ohio’s Public Employees (HOPE) represents our support and classified staff. Both of these organizations renewed collective bargaining agreements with a zero increase in base pay.
As a result of the economic impact of COVID on the state’s fiscal picture, West Clermont’s state funding also experienced two swift and drastic reductions. The first cut came with only two months left in the 2020 fiscal year, reducing critical revenue to the district by $1.7 million dollars. A second reduction of $760,000 in state funding has impacted this current fiscal year as well.
History has taught us that after any “great disruption”, society pulls together and creates a better place in which to live. COVID-19 will arguably be defined as such. However, arriving on the other side of disruption with a positive outcome does not come automatically—nor without an investment—especially at the local level, which includes schools.
Thankfully, as a result of our success at the ballot, our district was fortunate not only to receive the additional local levy money to sustain our programs, we were also granted additional dollars from local, state, and federal sources. We took these monies and used them to make investments in our future as a district. Chart I illustrates these sources, amounts, and investments.
By focusing these dollars on support for our people (staff), programs (curriculum), and facilities (classrooms), we have at the same time made an enhanced investment in our students. Receiving these additional funds was not only timely but essential for our district as our 2020 fiscal year expenditures per pupil ranks in the lowest 4% of all districts in the state. As illustrated below, our cost per pupil is well below both the state average and that of similar districts in Ohio.
Although we are proud of our ability to be efficient, the large gap in our per-pupil spending when compared to the state average and similar districts indicates that we may be doing without the necessary tools and resources to be effective.
Therefore, our efforts going forward lie in advocating for increased funding, prioritizing any additional funds to activate the initiatives of our strategic plan, and continuing to communicate and engage our community in the operations of our district. We know that together we can move our district from the past level of fiscal distress to a more positive level of fiscal fitness.