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State aid helps avoid cuts in staff, program

Thanks to a boost in state aid funding, the Cleveland Hill School District is close to finalizing a $29.58 million budget proposal that keeps the same staffing and programs and manages to restore some popular programs, Superintendent Jon MacSwan said at a community budget forum Wednesday night.

Cleveland Hill officials have criticized the state funding process over the past few months and have called for community members to contact their representatives. MacSwan believes that effort helped the district receive a 4.67 percent state revenue boost of about $547,000, almost $370,000 more than administrators expected to get this year.

"I do believe the reason the numbers came out the way they did was because of the effort of the people in the Cleve Hill community," said MacSwan, who also credited the settlement of a new teachers contract. "Our efforts did draw attention, and I believe [it] did make a difference in the final numbers. We're certainly optimistic moving forward."

The proposed budget calls for a 2 percent increase in the tax levy, which is about 0.5 percent below the state-mandated property tax cap. The School Board will hold a budget hearing and will vote on adopting the budget during its meeting April 18.

After keeping the tax levy relatively flat between 2006 and 2009, Cleveland Hill has faced state funding cuts every year since then, until the 2012-13 aid was finalized this week.

In the past few years, the district was forced to dip into its fund balance to cover the shortfalls, including a high of $3.2 million last year -- nearly double the fund balance amount used in 2008-09.

District administrators also have restored funding for the modified sports and high school musical programs, both of which were cut last year. MacSwan said the district is still suffering from the program cuts imposed a few years ago, but he is hopeful Cleveland Hill is bouncing back by planning budget outlooks for the next three years.

"It has been a long road," he said. "We have a long way to go before we get back to where we were, but we're headed in the right direction."