A resolution asking the Westlake City Schools to develop a long-term financial plan offers nothing the district is not already doing, say school administrators and some board members.
Board member Nate Cross introduced a resolution at the Westlake Board of Education’s April 18 meeting calling on the superintendent and treasurer to develop a long-term financial plan.
“We do have a five-year plan,” Board President Tom Mays told West Life. Saying the district looks at expenses on a continuing basis, Mays added the resolution offered nothing the district does not currently do.
Superintendent Dan Keenan and Treasurer Mark Pepera told West Life that while it’s fine to suggest the district’s plan be re-evaluated, Cross’s resolution seems to insinuate there’s no financial plan.
“We have a plan,” Pepera said. “We already have a plan.”
In an interview Monday with West Life, Cross said he disagreed that the district has an adequate five-year plan. He said more information is needed based on future personnel contracts the district may enter.
Cross’s resolution also proposes that the district establish a goal where expenses do not exceed revenue, notwithstanding budget reserve funds.
Pepera noted a school district can’t legally run a deficit and actually needs a cash balance at the beginning of a school year.
Districts usually are cash rich at the beginning of an operating levy cycle and see those reserves decline over the term of the cycle, which tend to be three to six years among area districts.
When pressed about this, Cross acknowledged the problems in state funding of education but said action was still needed.
At the April 18 meeting, Keenan said the current operating levy was promised to last four years but is being stretched to six.
“It’s not that we’re screwing up,” Keenan later told West Life. “It’s the way schools are funded.”
Cross’s proposal would appear to call for sharp cuts while leaving million in reserve for at least some years.
Cross charged that the district’s finances were on an “unsustainable path” and that the board needed to “draw a line in the sand.”
Board member Andrea Rocco, out of town and participating in the debate via Skype, pressed Cross on where he wanted to make cuts.
“What is you tough spending decision?” Rocco asked.
After rambling for some time, Cross offered no specifics but referred to new union contracts coming up and quoted from a Crain’s Cleveland Business editorial criticizing government costs and contracts.
Cross told West Life he can’t be specific on cuts until district officials give him certain answers regarding salary projections.
Cross said board are kidding themselves about financial responsibility without talking about reductions in salaries and benefits.
Cross has said the district spends more per pupil – roughly $2,000 more –than demographically similar districts in the state. That needs to change, he said.
Keenan acknowledged that but said Westlake has more special needs students (16.1 percent of total student population versus 11.2 percent for other demographically similar districts), and the cost to care for and education those students is a significant cost. Westlake also has a larger percentage of nonpublic school students that it must bus – 27.9 percent versus 10.9 percent for similar districts.
Other similar districts don’t offer the depth of opportunities, such as orchestra and foreign languages as early as the fifth grade, as Westlake does, Keenan said.
Cross said he plans to simplify his resolution before the next school board meeting but still believes it outlines a good game plan for the district.