Friday, March 7, 2003

State's school districts told to brace for even deeper cuts

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The state is warning school districts they could face even more budget cuts this year because of a drop in lottery profits and a $16 million deficit in Ohio's education budget.

The same day Gov. Bob Taft ordered $100 million cut from spending on schools, state schools Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman told districts in an e-mail there may be more cuts.

"I realize this is difficult information," Zelman said in the e-mail provided by the Education Department.

"I know you need it as soon as possible so that you can make important decisions for the remainder of the school year."

Lottery profits, which by law go to schools, are $22 million below estimates with four months left in the fiscal year - including a $7.3 million drop last month.

Lottery officials say they do not expect to have a shortfall. The Education Department disagrees.

"It looks to us like we're going to be short," Susan Tavakolian, the department's budget director, said Thursday. "How much short we're not sure."

John Brandt, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said he was unaware of possible additional cuts.

"That would be a huge concern if it happens," Brandt said.

While lottery profits have fallen short six of the last eight months, they would have to drop below a $38 million reserve fund by June 30 before a deficit existed.

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