A potential levy and the need for improved academic achievement were raised during the inaugural State of Wellington breakfast.
Wellington Schools superintendent Ed Weber and treasurer Tina Gabler spoke March 22 at the Eagles aerie for a crowd that included students, teachers, and school leadership.
TAKING STEPS FORWARD
Wellington’s state report card grade improved from 66.3 to 70.9 percent from 2016 to 2017. Weber said a seven-point uptick is great, but he has set a 12 percent goal.
Wellington is ranked 433rd among Ohio’s 609 school districts. “Our PSAT scores are in the 61st percentile nationally and if our aptitude is in the top half, achievement should follow suit,” he said. “In terms of our ranking in Ohio, that should put us around the 250th or better range.”
Also touted were the return of advanced placement classes at Wellington High School, the introduction of formal coding courses at McCormick Middle School, and the more than 120 students who’ve joined Boys and Girls Club after-school activities.
Grants from the Ohio Department of Education totaling $2 million have funded the Boys and Girls Club in Wellington as well as College Now impACT, an eight-week ACT preparation program that also provides college tours.
Weber stressed the importance in forming those partnerships as well as ones with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Wellington Schools Endowment Fund.
The fund’s Saving for College program matches 25 percent of parent’s contributions for higher education — up to $1,000 every six months. Money is invested in the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority’s College Advantage program. Whether a family chooses fixed income investments or stock programs, the earnings are tax-free and are can be deducted from state taxes.
In 2017, the fund matched $21,785 in contributions and saw participation raise from 39 to 87 families.
Students in the crowd were asked to stand up to hear a message from Weber.
“We’re in this business for you,” he told them. “Our efforts to hire high-quality teachers, fill up a strong curriculum, and find any way to support success is for you. Helping your dreams come true is why I, your teachers, and your administrators are in this business. Please talk to us. Tell us what you need and where we’re falling short. Give us the opportunity to be the school system you deserve. We will get there.”
LEVY MAY BE NEEDED
In an overview of the school system’s five-year financial forecast, Gabler said the general fund holds $13 million.
The district is projected to have $4.5 million in unencumbered funds for fiscal year 2018 — more than double the $2.2 million for fiscal year 2015, she said.
Most of that gain has come through drastic cuts made during the 2014-2015 school year, which Gabler called a “necessary evil.”
“This district was in the red and deficit spending and cuts had to be made,” Gabler said. “They were done to maintain the district and fiscal responsibility. We are projecting to be fiscally sound through 2020 and to not spend our reserve until 2021. However, once you get past 2020, it’s kind of like looking into a crystal ball, a lot of unknowns. There’s going to be a new governor and state budget. How they view public education will have a large effect.”
Gabler and Weber talked about high-priority expenditures coming soon, including new textbooks, buses, and computers as well as parking lot and roof repairs.
Unlike many districts, Wellington does not have a permanent improvement levy and instead takes money from its general fund.
“Permanent improvement is defined by anything that has a useful life of five years or more,” Gabler said. “These are things that physically improve a building. That can also mean security upgrades. Most school districts have a form of funding for permanent improvement. At the very least, a conversation about a levy needs to start taking place.”
“I don’t know if we can sustain this model of moving money from the general fund at the end of each school year,” she said. “The (Dickson Street athletic) stadium still has a lot of work that needs to be done such as the track, which isn’t usable. The field house is also not adequate.”
While happy to have built up reserve cash, Gabler said it’s not the district’s job to hold on to that money and that any excess should be invested in the district as soon as possible.
“It’s not our goal or job to be a savings account for taxpayer dollars,” she said. “It is our responsibility to be fiscally sound and put that money toward our building and our kids. Our general fund is in the black today and we are being fiscally sound.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.