WEST CARROLLTON, Ohio (WDTN) Dozens of parents reached out to 2 NEWS Investigates saying getting their kids to school is becoming dangerous after budget cuts reduced and even eliminated busing to some students.
West Carrollton high schoolers no longer get bused to school and the amount of students eligible to ride in k-8 was significantly reduced thanks to budget cuts.
Some parents believe it's a tactic to get their vote for an upcoming school levy and one they say is putting safety at risk.
Before the first bell rings and after the last one sounds, you can't miss the congestion around West Carrollton schools.
Lines of cars, buses trying to avoid them and kids coming from all directions. Parents are concerned.
"It's not safe. The traffic is not going to stop and our kids deserve better," said Parent, Rachel Tussey.
According to parents we talked to, these areas became more crowded after busing was reduced because of budget cuts announced in the spring. More students must now walk to school. Many routes require kids to cross train tracks and some don't have sidewalks.
West Carrollton Schools has tried and failed to pass a levy at least 5 times in the past 6 years. They haven't passed a new levy since 2007. When the latest one didn't pass in March, they made budget cuts. $600,000 dollars...about half was reducing busing.
"We always start as far away from the classroom as possible when you start making those budget cuts and that's where we are going into the 16-17' school year," said Superintendent Rusty Clifford.
Superintendent Rusty Clifford tells us changes in state funding has their future budget not looking good, so they are back on the ballot in November. A preliminary forecast estimates a $3.72 million deficit by 2020.
But we uncovered their current budget shows a surplus, which has parents and even a former school board member confused.
"Quite frankly in the budget as it exists today, there is more than enough money to provide busing for all these children. They don't need to use these tactics in order to threaten or bully people," said Former School Board Member, Mark Landers.
2 NEWS Investigates requested and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of West Carrollton's budget and fiscal forecast. It shows a surplus of more than 4 million dollars for 2016 and 3 million for 2017. That's enough money to fund busing a few times. So why cut it? Clifford tells me 4 million dollars doesn't go as far as you might think.
"We don't even have enough money in our general fund balance at the end of this school year. We only have half of what the state auditor says the school district should have to pay their bills," said Clifford.
So what about cutting other areas of the budget? During our investigation we found about $280,000 a year being spent by the district to pickup the administrative employee's contribution to their retirement fund.
"Every one of us, including me, has to pay our fair share of our retirement contributions and that should happen in our community," said Landers. He says it's a perk teachers there don't get.
Clifford said that is not an easy expense to do away with.
Natalie: "Is that still a benefit that you think this district can afford?"
"It's a significant pay cut to all administrators in the entire district. It's part of their salary. Everyone gets paid in different ways," said Clifford.
We also asked Clifford about money spent on an administrative staff retreat taken every year to Oxford, OH. He said they use state dollars for that trip, not local. He said the retreat has a tremendous benefit for them as district as they not only look back at last year to see how they've done but also look forward to short term / long term horizon.
Clifford said to get busing back running at full capacity and to keep about 20 staff positions from being cut, a levy needs to be passed this November. Parents believe the school is essentially holding busing hostage and putting kids at risk until the community votes "yes."
"I don't think putting kids' safety at risk is the most proper way to motivate voters," said parent, Jon Lewallen.
We took that concern to the top.
Natalie: "They feel like they are being strong armed into voting yes for this levy. What's your response?"
Clifford: "I understand why people would feel like that but we feel like transportation was cross cutting. It impacted the entire district because even if you still have transportation, your stop was moved so everyone was impacted by transportation. It wasn't like we were picking on one particular group," he continues, "I'll go back to what I said, we started as far back from the classroom as possible. That's where we started and that's why transportation is gone."
Clifford said their number one concern for students is safety. He said regardless of what they cut, parents would be upset.
But parents still feel like more can be done.
"It's not okay to bully us using our children's safety as a bargaining chip," said Tussey.
West Carrollton is asking voters to say yes to a $5.5 mil continuous operating levy. It would cost the average homeowner with a $100,000 home, an extra $16.04 per month.
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