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Columbus School Officials Turn From Campaigning To Possible Cuts

After Columbus school district voters said "no" to a proposed combined property tax increase and bond levy, district leaders have turned their attention to potential budget cuts and a possible return to the ballot next year. School board president Carol Perkins says the board heard voters loud and clear on November 5th.

We've been given pretty much a mandate in terms of we've got to make some appropriate cuts.

$50 million in school budget cuts are needed beginning in July of 2014 to balance the district's books and comply with state law. "Bottom line is, it's going to take a lot of courage from us," Perkins said. The November 5th request would have provided $76 million for a package of school reforms recommended by a mayoral-appointed commission. Some of the money would have been available to high-performing charter schools. Voters soundly rejected the measure. During the next two months, the board and interim superintendent Dan Good will now identify areas of possible cuts. "Every program and service we offer that exceeds state minimum's is important to someone," Good said. "And so, it's a value proposition or it wouldn't exist. So, it's always difficult to make reductions." Good says the $50 million in cuts will be difficult to attain. That amount is the approximate equivalent of 750 teacher salaries. Complicating matters further, the make-up of the board will change in January when two newly elected members will be sworn in. Board Vice president W. Shawna Gibbs says the new board, in addition to making budget cuts, will almost certainly have to make a decision whether to return to the ballot in 2014 to ask voters again for additional taxes.

Although we know we need to cut the $50 million we're going to have to simultaneously work to build a package this community is going to support.

A return to the ballot next spring will mean the new board would have to make a decision within the first several weeks of being sworn-in. Interim Superintendent Good says a spring levy would be risky. "I believe that's a lot to ask of new board members to ramp up that quickly to make that large of a decision without having an opportunity to really engage the community in a meaningful way in that conversation." Good says whether a levy is placed on the spring or fall ballot next year, any monies generated from a possible o-k by voters would not be available until January of 2015. Budget cuts would still have to made for the start of school year.