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Kuhn addresses budget deficit

Clintonville School District plans to correct finances

By Bert Lehman

With the Clintonville School Board passing a 2023-24 district budget that included a deficit of more than $1 million, Superintendent Troy Kuhn said the district is currently working on ways to eliminate future deficits.


“The board would not have approved a $1 million deficit if it didn’t have faith in fixing a million-dollar deficit,” Kuhn said in an interview with the Clintonville Tribune-Gazette. “There was no rebuttal. There was no yelling and screaming. There was none of that.”

Kuhn said the district realizes it needs to not only look for areas to cut in the budget, but also hire consultants to review the district’s current and projected budgets for the next three years.

“Through processes we will work through each and every area in which we can cut spending,” Kuhn said. “We have already created a spreadsheet for brainstorming. Cutting staff is one way, but not the only way.”

Kuhn acknowledged that cutting staff is always the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when there is a budget deficit, but that doesn’t mean that’s the correct solution.

“We know what staff we need in order to be successful,” Kuhn said. “Clintonville is fortunate to have really high, qualified staff. We haven’t had a lot of turnover in the district. It may look like we’ve had a lot of turnover, but compared to other districts, we haven’t.”

There was hope by the district that it would receive extra support for its finances through additional special education aid from the state.

“This did not get approved in the state budget and therefore, over $1 million dollars were not funded to Clintonville to help support students with special needs,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn also said the ESSER funds from Covid are no longer available for the district to use, adding that most of those funds were used for salaries, professional development, and curriculum.

Steps taken

The district began taking steps to reduce the deficit several months ago when the board approved switching health insurance plans for its employees. If it had remained with its current health insurance plan, that expense would have increased $300,000 to $400,000.

“It went up minimal in order to move to a different network,” Kuhn said. “At least we were able to keep our deductibles the same.”

The district has also negotiated a new busing contract with Lamers. But that has still increased in some areas more than 10%, Kuhn said.

“Luckily we can keep those costs moderated and bargain a little bit with Lamers because we own a bus garage,” Kuhn said. “If we didn’t own the garage, I think we’d kind of be at their mercy in a roundabout way.”

He pointed out that the 2023-24 budget also includes $80,000 to $120,000 to keep the Rexford Longfellow Elementary School buildings in a “sellable” condition.

“That’s why if it (Rexford Longfellow property) doesn’t sell here in the next month, we’re going to list it with a realtor,” Kuhn said. “And the other thing I’d like the board to do is set an end date. At what date are we saying enough is enough.”

The budget also contains an estimate as to how much it will cost to maintain the remodeled middle school, which now houses the elementary school. That figure could change since this is the first year of occupancy in the remodeled building.

Kuhn also said inflation has a big role in the budget deficit.

“Without getting additional money from the government to cover the rate of inflation it really restricts what districts can do to try and balance a budget without seeking an operational referendum,” Kuhn said.

Fund balance

During the budget presentation, Lindsay Norder, business manager for the Clintonville School District, expressed concern that the percentage of the fund balance to 2023-24 expenditures will fall to 11.6%, well below the 25% that board policy states it should be. Kuhn also expressed concern about that.

“It’s not just to break even, we need to start coming up with a surplus so that in case a catastrophe happens, we have enough money in that fund balance to cover that,” Kuhn said.

Mill rate

As it promised residents, the district kept the mill rate at $10.74. When asked if there would come a time in the future when the district has to raise the mill rate, Kuhn responded, “We hope not. We don’t think that increasing the mill rate will fly with Clintonville taxpayers. We could eventually go to an operational referendum to increase the amount of money we put into the General Fund balance, and decreasing the amount of money we ask to go into the Community Service Fund that helps support the Daycare and the Rec Center.”

Kuhn said the easiest way to fix the budget problems for school districts is for the equalized aid formula to be changed to “make education more equal across the state.”

“However, those I spoke with said that this will not happen,” Kuhn said. “So, the way schools are funding their programs and staff are through operational referendums. Again, this is unequal because affluent schools can afford operational referendums and non-affluent school districts have a hard time passing operational referendums because the percent of a taxpayer’s salary dedicated to the school district is much higher in a non-affluent school district.”

In addition, Kuhn said school choice is costing the Clintonville School District roughly $1.4 million and private school vouchers is costing the district about $703,000.

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