Federal Hocking is facing a budget shortfall due to high premiums and low enrollment

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STEWART, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — Federal Hocking Local Schools will face a $1.66 million shortfall by fiscal year 2027 if it does not cut spending, according to a report from the district.

Members of the Federal Hocking Board of Education met Thursday to discuss how the district will respond. Board President Kerry Sheridan-Boyd attributed the deficit to declining enrollment, as well as a 29% increase in insurance premiums in the last year.

According to Sheridan-Boyd, salary and benefits should not exceed 70% of a district’s overall expenditures.

“We are currently operating at 85.8%,” Sheridan-Boyd said.

Teachers in red shirts sit in an auditorium to watch a school board meeting.
Many teachers who attended the meeting wore red shirts with the hashtag #RedforEd printed on them. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB/Report for America]
Premiums are up because more staff are putting in claims. As for enrollment, Superintendent David Hanning said the problem is not unique to Fed Hock. Districts around the state have been seeing decreased enrollment since the pandemic. That directly reduces a district’s state funding.

Hanning said he believes Fed Hock can balance its budget at least for this year through attrition — that is, not replacing outgoing staff. A report from the district treasurer found this would save more than $800,000. The district would then reevaluate its options next spring.

While Hanning believes balancing through attrition would keep most existing programs intact, he stressed that the district will still look very different without those positions.

“We’re already operating everything we do in a barebones fashion,” he said.

Federal Hocking superintendent David Hanning speaks at a school board meeting.
Superintendent David Hanning said he didn’t think the district would have to cut any programming in its entirety to balance the budget for now. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB/Report for America]
Hanning suggested many of the district’s funding issues would be resolved if the state tweaked its funding model for schools.

“If we had full implementation of the fair school funding model at current numbers — ’23, ’24 numbers — that would really put us in a good spot, I think,” he said.

According to a report from the Ohio Department of Education, the state began implementing the Fair School Funding Plan during fiscal year 2022. However, Hanning said it’s not quite delivering the level of funding it would if it used the most up-to-date data. He said doing so would require legislative action.

Several teachers gathered in the auditorium to observe the meeting. Although a notice on Facebook stated that it would not be open to the public, some spoke up to share thoughts and suggestions with the board. When a board member noted the importance of preserving PE at the elementary level, a number of teachers expressed their support.

The board did not vote on any course of action at the meeting. It plans to do so at the regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday. That meeting is open to the public.