Smithart: OCS sound financially

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 20, 2010

Opp City Schools will likely operate with fewer teachers next year in order to keep the system on “sound financial ground,” Superintendent Michael Smithart said Wednesday.

Six months into the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Smithart said the system is doing OK.

“Look at it as a five-year plan,” he said. “The decisions we made at that point were to prepare for now, and what we’re working on now is to prepare for two years from now.”

In August, the doors opened to a new $10 million state-of-the-art elementary school. Opp residents agreed to pay for the school through a one-cent sales tax.

The system must now make a more than $52,000 a month payment on the school’s debt. When the one-cent city education sales tax fails to generate that sum, the system supplements the sales tax money to cover the payment. Such was the case in March, when the system contributed $7,932 toward the payment after the education sales tax generated only $44,821.

As the school year comes to a close, Opp’s board members, like others across the state, are taking a hard look at how to best provide education services for their students.

During the last four years, employee numbers have remained steady at 160. In 2010, that number increased by one; however, it is unknown what that total number will be for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Smithart said the board elected to not replace retirees and non-renewals to help cut expenses.

Before the state education budget was approved, Smithart anticipated the school system would have to cut nine teachers, but now it’s a matter of figuring out what programs are most important to the system, he said.

“There are certain programs we are mandated to provide certain services,” he said. “But as far as the non-essential programs, we are evaluating which are the most important.”

Non-essential programs include classes outside of the core subjects, such as art and music.

Another possible way the system could save money, would be to increase class sizes, Smithart said.

“We’re not at that point right now, but I think it’s coming,” he said.

Enrollment numbers determine the amount of funding school systems receive at the state level, and OCS has seen fluctuating numbers in the past four years.

The system currently has 1,371 enrolled, and from 2007-2009 numbers fluctuated from 1,395 to 1,401.

“Our enrollment numbers have really decreased in the past 10 years, but they’ve leveled off in the past several years,” he said. “It’s hurt our funding. Ten or 11 years ago we had more than 600 students at the high school, but now we only have about 400 students. We’ve had nearly a one-third reduction in enrollment and that’s cut down on the number of teachers.”

Local revenues, which include county sales taxes and the city’s education sales tax, have fluctuated a bit in the past four years.

In May 2007, $522,346 was collected; however, in May 2010 that number increased to $530,425 – a figure inflated only because of the one-cents sales tax added to pay for the construction of the new elementary school.

Collections from the years in between were basically flat at $537,000.

Still, with a little more than two months of operating costs in reserves, Smithart maintains the system’s five-year plan is adequate to see the system through these rough economic times.

“We’re on sound financial ground,” he said. “We’d love to be in even better shape, but all things considered we’re doing OK. We’re not satisfied, but we are about where we thought we’d be.”