Ohio

Ledgemont Local Schools Face Uncertain Future, Tough Fiscal Choices

Organizations

Ledgemont Local School District, located in the rural Geauga County town of Thompson, is staring down the barrel of projected multi-million dollar deficits within the next few years and is currently operating on emergency funds from the state. If taxpayers in the district refuse the latest in a series of levy requests, the district will be forced to consider merging with another nearby school district.

A  Ledgemont Local Schools levy on the ballot for the May 2013 election would increase the median homeowner’s property taxes by roughly $1300 per year if approved.

In 2010, the district slipped into “fiscal emergency” status and was given $2.17 million in state taxpayer funds to help stay afloat, offsetting a two-year gap between the expiration of the school district’s last income tax levy and the beginning of collections from the levy under which the district now operates.

Ledgement Local was required to repay the state in two years because the district’s request was made before the passage of a state law which took effect in June 2011 and gives school districts ten years to repay emergency loans.

In April 2012, Ledgemont Local took out a $1.7 million loan from Ohio taxpayers in order to pay its bills, which included the balance on the previous solvency loan from the state.

Had the district found a way to reduce spending by $216,799 in 2010, its current financial situation would be far less desperate. Servicing the debt owed to the state accounted for over 32 percent of the budget’s expansion between 2011 and 2012, contributing twice as much to the district’s ballooning budget as a 13.8 increase in teachers’ fringe benefits.

Ledgemeont Local Schools taxpayers currently pay for 86 percent of teachers’ personal retirement accounts, and an analysis of the school district’s financial data shows that union-negotiated salaries and benefits accounted for 62.9 percent of the school’s spending in 2012.

For the past 27 years, Ledgemont Local School District has flirted with fiscal emergency status, as the state has had to step in and oversee the district’s finances numerous times. According to district officials, discussions of the potential need to consolidate with a neighboring school system date back to 1927.

In 2012, former district superintendent Ron Donatone explained to reporters from the Geauga County Maple Leaf that the effective two-year gap forced the district to borrow the money from the state, which demanded that all expenditures be approved by an independent oversight board until the district had repaid its taxpayer-funded loans.

Donatone, who resigned and was replaced by former Geauga County Educational Service Center school improvement coordinator Julie Ramos, complained that the school’s dire fiscal straits necessitated nearly a 10 percent reduction in the school’s budget, and that “there isn’t anything easy that’s left to do.”

According to funding estimates reviewed by NPR StateImpact Ohio from Governor John Kasich’s “Acheivement Everywhere” school funding model, Ledgemont Local Schools would not receive any additional state funds under the new model.