Westlake Schools to try different angle with May levy

Superintendent Geoff Palmer highlights the district’s cost-saving accomplishments during the State of the Schools presentation on Jan. 27. Photo by Denny Wendell

The Westlake city school district is hoping that, with a new approach, the third time will be the charm. Following the defeat of two operating levies in 2013, the Westlake Board of Education voted Jan. 26 to place a 1 mill permanent improvement levy on the May ballot. The move came after research and a recommendation by members Thomas Mays and John Finucane, who serve on the board’s audit/finance subcommittee.

The vote was announced by Superintendent Geoff Palmer during the district’s State of the Schools presentation on Jan. 27.

“Our permanent improvement levy is one that we think takes some steps in addressing our long-range needs,” Palmer told the audience of parents, residents and school employees in the Parkside auditorium. “This is a way for us to steady the ship. We need to look at things longer term.”

Revenue generated from a permanent improvement (PI) levy is allocated only for improvements to items with a useful life of five years or more. Such capital expenditures include security and safety needs, technology, building infrastructure, mechanical equipment and outdoor property maintenance. PI funds would not be used for salaries, utilities or other daily operating expenses.

The district currently finances both types of expense out of the general operating fund. After the two failed operating levies, the school board – with input from Palmer, CFO/Treasurer Mark Pepera and the 20/20 Vision Committee – decided to ask voters to approve a separate fund for capital expenses.

“One of the crucial recommendations from [the 20/20 Committee] was the school district needs a dedicated revenue stream for capital improvements,” Pepera said during the State of the Schools address. “You can’t continue to Band-Aid those improvements as they come up each year from your operating funds.”

The last operating levy was passed in 2006, and the district’s expenditures have outpaced revenue since the 2011-2012 school year. Pepera projects cash reserves, which are used to fill the gap, will continue to decline unless the district substantially changes how it operates or finds a new source of revenue – either an operating levy or alternative source of income.

“At this time, the best move for our district, and what our immediate needs are, is to pursue a small capital initiative which would help relieve some pressure on the general fund,” said Pepera. “It certainly will not take care of our operational situation but will help in some regard.”

The district expects the permanent improvement levy to raise $1.36 million annually at the cost of $35 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

The district has committed $500,000 for capital improvements out of its general fund this year, Palmer said. New construction of the middle and high school buildings have reduced the need for improvement spending in recent years, but that figure is expected to climb as the buildings age. Prior to the passage of the bond issue in May 2010, capital expenditures averaged in the $1.3 million to $1.5 million range.

For more on the levy, district finances, and to view a video of the entire State of the Schools presentation, visit the Westlake Schools website at wlake.org.

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Volume 7, Issue 3, Posted 10:14 AM, 02.03.2015