Westerville City School District’s (WCSD) Treasurer/CFO Nicole Marshall presented Board of Education members with a slightly improved Five-Year Financial Forecast to approve during their regular meeting on May 23.
Despite continued underfunding by the State of Ohio, WCSD’s updated forecast improved slightly due to wise use of federal pandemic relief funds, conservative budgeting practices and, most recently, the effects of the state’s “Fair School Funding Plan.”
In the spring of 2020, just two months into the pandemic, projections indicated the district would be left with only $16 million in its unreserved fund balance by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. District officials immediately sought ways to curtail expenses, maximize the use of federal relief dollars, and lessen the effect of the pandemic on district finances.
“Our efforts to proactively address the fiscal impact of the pandemic continue to be successful,” Marshall said. “As a result, our projected annual cash balances have continued to grow slightly, with our FY26 unreserved cash balance increasing from $35.3 million in the November 2021 forecast to a $43.1 million projected balance in this updated May 2022 forecast.”
Recent Financial Forecasts also projected that WCSD would begin deficit spending (when expenditures exceed revenue) in FY23. That projection has held true, but the extent of deficit spending has steadily decreased. The May 2021 forecast projected deficit spending in the amount of $16.25 million in FY23. The November 2021 forecast saw that projected amount decrease to $7.78 million. That amount decreases to $3.78 million in the latest May 2022 forecast update.
“The fact that we do not foresee entering into deficit spending any earlier than originally projected, along with the fact that we have actually been able to reduce the projected amount of deficit spending yet again, is welcome news,” Marshall said. “We’ll continue our efforts to reduce this amount and are also pleased that we continue to project a positive unreserved fund balance for each of the five years covered by this forecast.”
Marshall explained that while district officials have been able to maintain financial targets, they are doing so despite a $4.1 million decrease in state revenue over the last two fiscal years when school budgets were cut due to the pandemic. The work district leaders have done to decrease projected deficit spending is important because of the compounding effect it has on future balances and the amount of new revenue ultimately needed to balance the budget.
Also under the new Fair Schools Funding Plan, the state now makes direct payments to charter and non-public schools. Under the state’s previous funding formula, these payments were automatically transferred to those schools, which resulted in WCSD sending approximately $8.6 million to charter schools and private institutions. The new funding formula reflects a reduction in WCSD state revenue of that same amount.
Marshall noted that district officials aggressively lobbied legislators for a better school funding model and appreciated the state’s recent efforts to address school funding concerns.
“Ohio’s most recent biennial budget is an improvement from previous budgets when we were a capped district and had approximately $12 million annually withheld from our state revenues,” Marshall said. “We would love to see the state fully fund its public school systems in future budgets as this would help reduce the frequency and amount of local operating levies that districts must request from their respective communities.”
Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan continues to underfund WCSD by approximately $6.4 million per year.
School districts must file their five-year financial forecasts with the State of Ohio by November 30 and May 31 of each fiscal year. These forecasts rely heavily upon past fiscal trends and future assumptions. The updated Five-Year Forecast and all other Board action items are available online through the district’s web site at www.wcsoh.org. Visitors can obtain the information by visiting the Treasurer/Fiscal Services page under “Our Departments” or by navigating to BoardDocs via the Board of Education page. Board meetings and presentations also are available to view at the district’s YouTube page at www.youtube.com/WCSDOhio.