The Chagrin Falls Board of Education still is at the drawing board when determining what route to take in asking voters to approve a levy.
The board reviewed three levy scenarios, reviewing a 4-mill levy, which would go into the district’s permanent improvement fund and replace the 4 mills that will fall off after a debt service is paid off next year, and two 7.9-mill levies; one with $4 million in certificate of participation financing, known as COP, and one without.
But before discussing more levy scenarios during their regular meeting on Feb. 19, Treasurer Ashley Brudno took time to present the district’s expenditures to determine where cuts, if any, could be made in spending.
Ms. Brudno pointed out that the district spends about 55 percent of its general fund on salaries, 20 percent on benefits, almost 13 percent on purchase services, 2.4 percent on supplies and materials and about 10 percent on capital outlay and other uses.
She noted that some of the seemingly obvious areas to reduce spending are typically out of the district’s control. “Some things that seem the easiest, you can’t really do a lot,” she said.
Because salaries are negotiated contracts, she said the only major changes that could be done to reduce spending in this area is by looking at the “headcount” of employees, which she said is mostly dependent on student enrollment.
The second largest expenditures, employee benefits, she said is determined by law, therefore not much can be adjusted by the district. She added, however, that there is some control over medical benefits, specifically with choosing either fully-insured plans or self-insured models. She said the board’s insurance committee will meet to explore these options, noting that switching to a self-insured model could save both the district and employees money in the long run.
She added that the district has “little to no control” on most purchase service agreements, noting line items like need-based scholarship programs, College Credit Plus or vocational tuition. And as for supplies and materials, Ms. Brudno said textbooks are the largest expenditure. She said the schools are on a schedule for book replacement to ensure students have the most up-to-date resources.
Ms. Brundo emphasized that her staff looks at the schools’ spending every day to make sure they are making informed decisions and not overspending. She said she and Superintendent Robert Hunt will look to have a more itemized list to present in the spring to take a closer look at ways to reduce spending.
“I feel like we’re asking our taxpayers to reach into their wallets and find a little bit more money for us,” Board member Kathryn Garvey later said, “and if we can reach into our wallet and say, ‘we don’t need to spend all that,’ then that’s our job.”
In moving to levy scenario discussions, the board focused in on comparing the 7.9-mill scenarios to determine if COP financing is the right choice for the district.
The board explored what it would look like to do a combined 7.9-mill levy without COP financing. Ms. Brudno explained that this would include 5.9 mills for operating in the general fund, 2 mills for the permanent improvement fund and transferring 0.34 inside mills from the general fund to the permanent improvement fund.
Mrs. Garvey said she requested this scenario be examined because “I wanted to see if we could achieve a 7.9-mill levy that still gives us a four-year cycle, still allows us to do the bus garage and allows us to start building a little bit of a balance in our [permanent improvement] fund.”
Ms. Brudno confirmed that the permanent improvement fund would grow with the transfers in from the general fund. She added that if this levy were to pass this year, she would most likely come back to the board for another levy in 2024.
“It looks to me like we can achieve a four-year cycle with 7.9 mills, however we decided to split it up, without doing this certificate of participation,” Mrs. Garvey said. “I think that’s really good news.”
Board Vice President Greg Kanzinger, however, noted that he preferred the option with the COP because it would mean more money up front for the district.
“If we could achieve our goals with facilities and our goals with our operating budget without undertaking an additional debt instrument,” Mrs. Garvey said, “why would we want to take on [a COP]?”
Mr. Kanzinger said taking on a COP allows the school to pay off a project over time, rather than all at once and lowering their funds.
Mrs. Garvey said the complexity of a COP would be unattractive to voters, especially in a presidential election year.
Board member Mary Kay O’Toole said she was hesitant in pursuing COP financing with the risk that accruing debt would eat away at the district’s funds.
Dr. Hunt said that would just depend on how much the board obtains through a COP should they choose to do so.
Mr. Kanzinger said a COP would provide cushion for catastrophic events. He clarified, however, that he would be happy to support a levy without a COP, but a COP is what he would prefer. “I think it’s a good plan. It’s not my preferred plan, but I’m good with it.”
In addition to whether a COP would be an appropriate course of action, the board also second-guessed their consideration of a special election in August.
Board member Sharon Broz said that in researching elections in both Cuyahoga and Geauga counties since 1970, there was only one August election that pertained to Chagrin schools residents that was a countywide measure for Geauga.
“People are not accustomed to an August election,” she said. “So I would have a really hard time putting an August election out there.” She said people might be in “vacation mode” and low voter turnout could risk levy failure. She noted that the last levy the district failed, there was low voter turnout.
Ms. Brudno noted that an August election has not been done specifically for the school board, and education on why the election would be in August could become another “hurdle” for the board in passing the levy.
Mr. Kanzinger said stronger voter turnout in November could guarantee that people who support the levy will be at the polls.
The board members plan to continue exploring levy and COP scenarios at their next board meeting, March 4 at 6 p.m. in the Sands Community Room of the Chagrin Falls schools campus, 400 E. Washington St.