By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal education writer
The Akron school board accepted a healthy five-year budget forecast on Monday and voted to restore middle school sports, foreign languages and music options cut last year amid a nearly $19 million shortfall.
“You don’t often see things come back when they are cut,” said board President Jason Haas. “I’ve got to be honest, I’m still floored by the idea that things are coming back.”
Winter sports would be reinstated this academic school year, costing the district roughly $100,000, administrators estimated. Fall sports would be reinstated in the 2014-2015 school year.
Also returning next fall are eighth-grade foreign language courses, as well as elementary and middle school band and orchestra. These programs and 202 jobs, including 133 teachers, were cut in 2012 with no promise of reinstatement should the November levy pass.
Treasurer Jack Pierson updated the budget to reflect revenue increases after the governor signed a favorable state budget over the summer and the county began collecting property taxes on the 7.9-mill levy approved by voters last year.
“This is the first time since I’ve been submitting five-year budgets that there is a positive balance at the end of the forecast, which is shocking because in October of last year when we did this forecast, there was a negative balance starting in, I believe, fiscal year 2015,” Pierson said.
Haas added: “We have to stress and give thanks to the citizens of Akron who came out in support of the levy, as well as the governor’s office and legislature that passed a budget. While we still have bones to pick with Columbus, it was pretty darn good for this district.”
State funding increases for schools were capped at 6.25 in fiscal year 2014 and 10.5 percent in fiscal year 2015 under the new state budget. Akron received the maximum increase in both years.
Pierson did caution board members that enrollment continues to be a concern, particularly the number of students leaving for school choice options, including open enrollment into neighboring districts, charter schools and students who receive state vouchers to attend private schools. Each student who leaves takes state funding from Akron schools, and Pierson doesn’t expect the exodus to slow in the next five years.
More than 6,000 students living in Akron do not attend an Akron school this year. Pierson estimates 7,510 — or a quarter of all Akron students — will leave by 2018. Nearly 4,100 of those students are expected to attend charter schools and 1,050 are estimated to attend private schools as the state has extended voucher eligibility based not solely on a school’s academic performance, but the income level of the student’s family.
Pierson also noted that bus purchases may exceed $800,000 annually in the next five years to maintain a fleet that does not outlive a state-suggested 12-year life expectancy. Pierson also underlined increased spending, at roughly $3.5 million a year, until an estimated $16.5 million in Internet and computer upgrades are completed for the state’s new online-only testing to begin in fall 2015.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.