Columbus City Schools announced Wednesday that positions will be eliminated, programs discontinued and workloads redistributed as part of its plan to balance its coming budget by reducing expenditures by $25 million.
To balance its FY14 budget, a statement explaining the cuts said that because budget costs are so wrapped up in personnel (85%), more than 300 positions, representing a salary and benefit total of nearly $22 million, will be impacted.
CSS laid part of the blame on limited state budget increases, but it also said a delay in requesting a new operating levy have forced the District to reduce expenditures. It also said it will do its best to minimize the impact at the classroom level but "so much has been cut over the years that there is almost nothing that can be eliminated today that will not impact the District’s schools in some way or another," according to a District release from Jeffrey B. Warner, CSS Communication Director.
In his first biennial budget, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who won a close race in 2010, reduced education funding by $1.8 billion. In his second budget, now working its way through the Ohio legislature, critics say nearly all districts are taking cuts, with the exception of some of Ohio's wealthiest districts that are getting more.
Reflecting on the long hard road its come over the last decade, CSS said it has reduced budget growth by nearly $150 million by cutting hundreds of staff positions, eliminating programs, curtailing services and by wage concessions. At the same time, the District has leveraged grants, federal funds, and partnerships in order to build organizational capacity to improve student achievement.
To extract another $25 million from an already lean budget, CSS said the majority of the impact will be felt in staff reductions, equaling more than 300 positions across all levels of the organization.
"We have systematically looked at nearly every program, department, support function, school, and major service contract," it said, adding that it has carefully considered how these recommendations impact different grade levels, various staff classifications, the ability to comply with state and federal requirements, and our ability to still provide a strong foundational program for our students.
Thinking long-term, invests in early reading intervention and pre-kindergarten programs that provide students with much needed academic support at an earlier age must be continued.
"This is unquestionably a very difficult time. While these recommended reductions fulfill our need to save money,they most assuredly do not make us better or enable us to more effectively support our schools or students," CSS said.
Among the big ticket items slated for elimination is high school transportation ($4.2M), which severely impacts the ability to support parental school choice and meet students' education goals at the high school level.
Eliminating a period out of the day for Middle and High School will save the district $8.3 million by reducing 103 teaching positions in elective course areas.
By limiting the number of bus passes to 6,500 students for internships in grades 11 & 12 , CSS saves nearly one-half million dollars but COTA (Central Ohio Transportation Authority) gets less revenue.
Statements like "Duties will be redistributed among other clerical staff" or "Duties will be combined with other responsibilities within the department" are mentioned often.
Elimination of substitutes and Middle School athletics and extracurricular activities, to the tune of about $1.7 million are cuts guaranteed to raise temperatures.
In recent weeks, the creation of an Education Commission by Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman has caused some voices to wonder if the three-term mayor and selected corporate interests are making an effort to take more control of Columbus City Schools.
A fear is that Coleman's commission will echo what other large cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia are doing, namely, trying to reduce the role of an elected board of education.
The commission, made up of top business leaders, union officials and community activists, is studying the school district in advance of a possible tax levy request later this year. With its recommendations slated for release in April, the commission has requested the CCS school board to delay the hiring of a permanent superintendent.
Current superintendent Gene Harris is retiring at the end of June. Gary Baker, a school board member, told a local radio station, "There’s no reason to wait."
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