By Jordan Cohen
The board of education may consider a school levy in 2015 in the wake of the latest five-year financial forecast, which indicates the district will have to remain under state fiscal watch, where it has been since 2003.
“It was our hope to be out of fiscal watch with this forecast, but the last year, 2018, has a large deficit,” said Richard Limongi, school board vice president. The deficit, projected by school Treasurer Linda Molinaro, is more than $640,000.
Unlike previous five-year forecasts for the district, Molinaro’s latest shows Niles schools in the black through the fourth year with a positive balance of $200,000 for 2017, but revenue trails off by nearly $800,000 the following year. Molinaro said the size of the fifth-year deficit likely ensures that fiscal watch will not be ending.
According to Limongi, there are two reasons for the revenue loss, the first being the shutdown of the GenOn Energy power plant on McKees Lane that contributed to Niles schools’ tax base. “[That is] a decrease in tangible personal property of roughly $400,000,” Limongi said. The second, according to Molinaro’s figures, is a 7.8 percent increase in the schools’ annual insurance costs.
“We spend an average of $2.6 million on health-care costs,” said Limongi, adding that the district has had to pay what he described as “some large claims.”
“Something to consider is to begin discussion on a new operational levy to go on the ballot in the November 2015 election,” Limongi said. The amount of the levy has yet to be determined.
As ominous as the fifth-year deficit may be, it is an improvement from last year’s economic forecast, which indicated the red ink could be as high as $2.9 million. The two school officials attributed the deficit reduction to holding the line on expenses with no major increases, but said that other school needs are left wanting. One glaring example is the continuing support of what Limongi called the “antiquated technology” at the 11-year old Niles Middle School.
Both warn that additional pressures on the budget likely are to come from cost increases for utilities, supplies and other purchased services.
The district had received an additional $700,000 in funds, but Molinaro said the money is limited for uses to aid the economically disadvantaged, such as reading improvement and intervention, drop-out prevention, school safety and security measures. “Those are considered restricted dollars and cannot be used as operational funds,” she said.
School Superintendent Frank Danso did not respond to several requests to comment.
The treasurer issues her five-year forecast twice a year. The next projection is scheduled for October.