Federal Hocking’s Future Financials Look Solid

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After overcoming a period of fiscal emergency and previous painful cuts, Federal Hocking Local Schools’ financials look healthy for the next five years, according to the forecast presented at Monday’s school board meeting.

For the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Treasurer Bruce Steenrod is expecting $11.7 million in total revenue and $10.5 million in total expenses. That trend is expected to continue through 2017.

By fiscal year 2018, Steenrod predicts the district will spend more than it takes in by about $141,000. However, that shortfall is covered through the district’s cash reserves, leaving the district with just over $3.8 million in the bank.

The forecast was adjusted for the loss of revenue, should Holzer Health System be granted tax-exempt status for the clinic in Athens. The losses are estimated to be $80,500 for the general fund and $16,065 for all other funds.

It’s not uncommon to see deficits in years four and five of a forecast, which is a document designed to paint a picture of a district’s finances based on a snapshot of today. Given the uncertainty of the state budget, local economic factors, state or federal mandates, etc., later years are hard to project, states the Ohio Department of Education. The forecast is required to be developed and presented to the state twice a year.

While Steenrod said the district is financially healthy, the district still faces some variables. The forecast does not include any staff raises beyond this year. That could change, as the district’s negotiated agreement with teachers and classified personnel will expire this summer.

The district is also dependent on the current formula as defined in the state budget. The new formula, which is the fourth system created since fiscal year 2008, is even more reliant on enrollment and property values. Federal Hocking Local Schools has seen overall declines in enrollment over the past decade yet is a geographically large district.

“With a big district like ours, we have lot of property but not a lot of kids, so we’re considered wealthy,” Steenrod said. “But that’s assuming you can pass any levy you want to, and that’s not the case here.”

Also a concern for the district is whether or not the governor will decide, as he’s once stated, to phase out the “guarantee” funds. The district is expected to receive about $610,957 in transitional aid, also known as guaranteed funds. This means the new school funding formula indicates the district should be receiving $610,957 less. Because districts were promised not to receive any less funding from last year, the district is getting that extra money.

If the state starts cutting the guarantee, then “we’ve gotta start worrying,” Steenrod said.