Right-Sizing the Kent City Schools
A Plan for the District’s Future Financial Stability
The Current Financial Challenges Facing Our District
Q. Why is additional cost cutting needed when we just passed a levy?
We are incredibly appreciative of Kent voters who approved the 8.9-mill levy in May – one of the largest we have ever asked of our community. Those dollars will be critical to helping the district remain financially solvent for the coming three years, but the reality is that the levy dollars alone will not allow Kent Schools to remain solvent; that is why we must look at other cost-saving measures and why we need to make those decisions now. Here’s why:
- The five-year financial forecast shows a significant cash deficit for the district beginning in fiscal year 2017. Even when the levy passed, our Board knew that additional cuts would be needed to keep the district solvent until 2019, when we hope to have additional levy dollars in place.
- The six rounds of cost-saving initiatives we put in place after the recession began in 2008 – including base wage freezes for teachers, staff and administrators and totaling nearly $6 million – are not enough to sustain us into the future.
- Student enrollment has dropped 25 percent in the past 20 years, from 4,400 children in 1994 to 3,300 in 2013. When enrollment declines, we receive less money from the state because we are reimbursed on a per-pupil basis. Moreover, while enrollment has declined significantly, our staffing has not. That means our per-pupil costs have increased. Those per-pupil costs have increased even more when you look at our costs to operate our buildings, which now must be spread over a smaller student population.
- The district also has suffered significant reductions in state school funding and lost local revenue due to Ohio tax reform, which eliminated Tangible Personal Property Tax (taxes on local business inventory such as machinery, new cars, furniture, fixtures, etc.). Cuts from the state also include the compensation we receive because of the large amount of tax-exempt property in our district (Kent State University and Lake Rockwell). This coming year, our district will only receive a 2 percent increase in state aid. Several other districts in Portage County will receive a 10.5 percent increase.
- Finally, we are facing alarming projections for healthcare coverage provided by the district. Over the next five years, we expect our costs in this area to increase by nearly $6 million, making it the single most challenging item in our operating budget even though all district employees covered under our plan share in the cost of our healthcare insurance.
The Decision to Close Buildings
Q. Why were Central School and Franklin Elementary selected for closing?
Student enrollment at Franklin has dropped significantly over the past 20 years from 350 to 193 students. However, while enrollment has declined at Franklin, our staffing has remained relatively constant and our fixed costs for this building – the oldest in our district – have continued to climb. As a result, our fixed operating costs at Franklin per pupil far exceed those at our other elementary buildings, as reflected in the chart below:
|Annual Fixed Operating Costs|
When we considered the capacity we have at our other elementary schools to accommodate our Franklin students, and the amount the district would save by eliminating instruction at Franklin (estimated at nearly $1.3 million per year), it became clear we could not ignore our responsibility as stewards of the tax dollars Kent’s residents have so generously provided. Central School currently serves a small number of high school students, so moving them back to Roosevelt High School was viewed as having a minimal impact on the district’s families.
Q. Why are these closings scheduled for the 2014-2015 school year? Why not wait and get more input before making these decisions?
By consolidating for next year, the district can push back the forecasted cash deficit to 2019. Otherwise, district taxpayers would be faced with another levy request sooner than promised.
Q. What about the staff and teachers at Franklin? What will happen to them?
Currently, personnel costs make up 86 percent of our budget. We must adjust our student-teacher ratio across the district in order to keep our schools financially solvent. We are hoping many of these reductions will be addressed by retirements and other departures. In fact, because of Ohio pension reform, we anticipate a few dozen teacher retirements in the next two years, so we anticipate attrition will play a major role with staff reductions. However, the reality is that we may need to make staff reductions. These are hard decisions we wish we did not have to make, but we must make them if we want to remain responsible stewards of the tax dollars Kent’s residents have so generously provided.
Q. When will I know where my child will attend school next year?
We will be holding teacher meetings to gather input from our teachers on the best possible arrangements and assignments. We also will coordinate our teachers’ requests with Jim Soyars, Director of Business Services, who will finalize the details of logistics and transportation. We also have established a District Advisory Committee (DAC) to help us make these decisions. A district-wide redistricting DAC will review new boundaries for each school building. This committee will operate with complete transparency and report back to the community about their progress on a regular basis. We will be asking the redistricting DAC to begin work quickly, as we have committed to providing the parents of elementary students with detailed information on the transition plan for their children by Spring Break, if possible.
Q. What will you do to make the transition easier on students?
We intend to arrange a variety of activities and visits between buildings. Similar to the visitations of current fifth graders to Stanton Middle School sixth-grade classrooms in the spring, exchanges and visitations between students in earlier grades will be arranged. We also have established a Franklin Transition Team District Advisory Committee and will ask them to provide suggestions to help us with this process.
Q. What are the future plans for the Central and Franklin buildings?
There are no current plans to sell either building. Central will no longer serve as an annex for high school student programs, but it will continue to provide leased space to outside educational service tenants. Possible re-uses of the Franklin building will be a topic for future discussion.
Q. Did you consider closing DePeyster instead and moving the administrative staff into another building?
We have already reduced four positions at DePeyster within the last few years. Although the administrative staff is small in number, the costs associated with those individuals are divided among all of the students in the district. That allows us to make an apples-to-apples cost comparison for operating our buildings. When you use this method, the fixed operating cost for DePeyster is very small, about $7.50 per pupil, versus more than $1,000 per pupil for any of our working elementary schools. Closing DePeyster would do little to address our financial situation.
Elementary Education across the District
Q. Can the remaining four elementary schools accommodate all our students?
Yes. Current elementary enrollment numbers total 1,321 students from grades preschool to grade five. In years past, the remaining four elementary school buildings have housed as many as 1,539 students.
Q. What happens if the district experiences a sudden surge in enrollment?
We are not selling any of the buildings in our district nor are we tearing them down. If we faced a sudden increase in students, we could certainly revisit the plans we are putting in place to utilize both Central and Franklin.
Q. How different are the academic programs in the other four elementary buildings?
A good number of teachers travel among the buildings to deliver instruction on special subjects to students from different buildings. All Kent elementary buildings follow the same Ohio academic standards. In recent years, all five elementary buildings have achieved the Ohio Department of Education’s rating of “Excellent” or “Excellent with Distinction.”
Q. How will elementary consolidation impact class size?
We will keep our levy promise to maintain reasonable class sizes. Numbers in each elementary classroom will range from 20-25 students.
Q. When will parents know about bus routes for next school year?
Bus routes will be determined after classrooms, teacher assignments and new building locations are determined. Just like every other year, post cards with details about bus routes will be sent out in August.
Q. How will these moves affect traffic in the neighborhoods surrounding the elementary schools that are remaining open?
Jim Soyars, Director of Business Services, will finalize the details of logistics and transportation related to these moves and he intends to do everything possible to minimize extra traffic in our neighborhoods. He will be working with the district-wide redistricting DAC to review new boundaries for each school building and those concerns will be part of that effort. As a side note, traffic in our school neighborhoods would be reduced significantly if parents would use school bus transportation instead of driving their children to school. Our buses are also the safest way to travel to and from school!
The Decision-Making Process
Q. What led the district to decide to close Franklin?
In September 2012, we began a strategic planning process to help address the future challenges facing our district and we invited the community to participate in that process. The need to close one of our elementary schools and a number of other cost-saving measures were identified during that process. At its January meeting, our Board began to act on the recommendations coming out of our strategic planning process.
Q. What was discussed at the board meeting on January 28th?
The Board of Education heard another presentation by Treasurer Debbie Krutz on the district’s financial future, which includes the new 8.9 mill levy passed last May. Then, Superintendent Dr. Joe Giancola presented the Board with many options to continue more cost savings in the future.
Q. What action was taken at that board meeting?
By unanimous vote, the Board of Education authorized the administration to move forward with right-sizing the district and other cost-saving measures, in order to address the current deficits in the five-year financial forecast. Those measures include closing the Central and Franklin school buildings.
Q. Is the decision about Franklin final?
Yes. The Board has voted and we intend to begin the transition process right away. By consolidating for next year, the district can push back the forecasted cash deficit to 2019. Otherwise, district taxpayers would be faced with another levy request sooner than promised.
Q. Will the community have an opportunity to have a say in how this transition – and other cost-saving measures – are carried out?
We understand the announcement about Franklin appeared abrupt and we apologize that we did not take the time to share this important news more appropriately. Going forward, we have committed to establishing three district advisory committees (DACs) to work with us as we implement the cost-saving measures we have identified. They include: a Franklin Transition Team DAC; a district-wide redistricting DAC to review new boundaries for each school building; and a Roosevelt Pool DAC. Those committees will operate with complete transparency and report back to the community about their progress on a regular basis. The administration has committed to continue its dialogue with the community on these important issues and you can expect to hear from us regularly in the months ahead. We will use several means of communication, including meetings, letters, e-mails, phone calls, and the school district Web site at www.kentschools.net.
Q. What other cuts are planned? What about the Roosevelt pool?
The Roosevelt pool will stay open. We hope to reduce costs associated with the pool by looking at other sources of revenue for it, such as rental fees. Dr. Giancola has presented many other options for continued cost savings, including:
- Restructuring some programs and positions
- Eliminating some positions
- Reducing some programs or services
Those options will be considered at upcoming board meetings, which the public is welcome to attend.
Q. How much money will be saved?
Consolidation will eliminate fixed operating costs for the Franklin and Central buildings, as well as reduce personnel costs through staff downsizing. We estimate consolidation savings of $1,525,000 each year. However, additional cost-saving measures must be implemented to address the cash deficits the district still faces. No matter what decisions we make, our commitment to excellent classroom instruction for EVERY student remains our number-one priority. We made several commitments to the community when we asked for passage of the levy and we do not intend to waiver on those commitments. We know the decisions we are making are difficult, but we are making them with one goal in mind: to preserve the quality of education every student in our district deserves and every parent expects.
Q. Where do we go from here? What is the timeline? What is the plan?
The Board of Education has established District Advisory Committees to discuss three specific areas:
- A transition plan for Franklin Elementary
- A redistricting team to review new boundaries for each school building district-wide
- A committee to review the Roosevelt pool
Our goal is for the redistricting committee to review information and make their recommendations to the Board at its March 18 meeting. That will allow us to tell parents where their children will attend school next year before Spring Break, and to be able to present teacher contracts to the Board at its April meeting. Meanwhile, the Board continues to look at other cost-saving initiatives.