The Forest Hills Board of Education may on June 24 take the first step in placing a property-tax levy for operating expenses on the November ballot.

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The Forest Hills Local Schools Board of Education may on Monday, June 24, take the first step in placing a 4.7-mill operating levy on the November ballot.

That’s even though it has approved just $1.5 million of the $2 million in budget cuts school district officials said they would identify in three phases by May.

The millage for the property tax under consideration is on the low end of figures discussed, which have ranged as high as 5.5 mills.

The Forest Hills Local Schools Board of Education may on Monday, June 24, take the first step in placing a property-tax levy for operating expenses on the November ballot. (Photo: Jeanne Houck/The Enquirer)

The board of education decided Thursday to consider passing a resolution June 24 stating the necessity for a 4.7-mill levy.

That would trigger a directive to the Hamilton County auditor to certify the total tax valuation of property in the Forest Hills School District — which serves Anderson Township and Newtown – and how much money would be generated annually by the levy.

According to Forest Hills’ estimations, “This will raise approximately $6.1 million per year and is expected to fund current staffing and programs (without putting back in place the $1.5 million per year already out of the budget) for a period of three years,” schools Superintendent Scot Prebles said in an email Friday.

The school board would use the information provided by the county auditor to decide whether to proceed with a levy – which would take another vote.

Forest Hills has until Aug. 7 to provide the Hamilton County Board of Elections with paperwork to put a levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The June 24 Forest Hills board of education meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Nagel Middle School, 1500 Nagel Road in Anderson Township.

Earlier this week, school board members did not respond to an email sent them asking why they made $500,000 less in cuts than originally planned.

Instead, Prebles replied, saying, “If additional operational funds are not secured in the 2019 calendar year we will reduce more staff and student programming.”

Forest Hills officials have estimated district deficits of about $3.4 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, and about $13.2 million and $25.5 million, respectively, for the following two fiscal years.

Prebles introduced $500,000-worth of cuts at a board of education meeting Jan. 28, saying another $500,000 would follow at the March 25 board meeting and a final $1 million at the May 20 meeting.

Prebles also informed Forest Hills staff in an email in March that $2 million in cuts were coming. He and other school district officials told the Ohio Department of Education the same thing two months earlier.

School districts are required to present the state education department with plans detailing how they intend to head off projected deficits.

Forest Hills officials wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to the state Office of School Finance that, based on information current then, the school district planned to make $2 million in annual budget cuts and pass a 4.9-mill levy in 2019.

“The written plan requirement process puts the district in the best position to remedy those deficits with a goal to avoid the worst case, ‘those who fail to plan, plan to fail,’ scenario,” Carolyn Cypret, an Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman, said.

“Provided the district carries through with written plan(s), the district may restore fiscal solvency without being placed into fiscal oversight.”

The Forest Hills board of education made $500,000 in central administrative office cuts in January and $521,000 in building-level cuts in March.

After it cut $500,000 in teaching and other student-assistance staff positions in May, Prebles was asked whether another $500,000 in cuts were coming.

“$1.5 million per year over two years equals $3 million, which still shows an approximate $400 thousand deficit in the 20-21 school year,” Prebles said then in an email.

In his email of this week, Prebles said Forest Hills officials have consistently said at board of education meetings that their first priority in making cuts was to minimize the impact on students, followed by staff, parents and partners. 

The first two phases of cuts included reductions that minimally impacted students in a negative way, Prebles said.

“Phase III has always been described as an ‘attrition’ phase that continues to avoid further elimination of staff and programming,” Prebles said.

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“The ($500,000 in cuts approved in May) is equivalent to a reduction in force of eight teachers which will cause deeper reductions and increased class sizes.”

The reduction in force of teachers is being accomplished by retirements, resignations, reassignments and a reduction of services for which the need has decreased, school officials say.

“The Board affirmed the recommendations, stated their disappointment that even though we are using attrition practices to reduce things with the least impact on students as our guide, all reductions - in some way - negatively impact students,” Prebles said.

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