Facing $143M deficit, CMSD reveals plans for cuts

CLEVELAND (WJW) — When pandemic-era relief funding expires later this year, it’s going to leave a $143 million shortfall in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s budget for the next school year, school officials said, leading to tough decisions ahead.

Schools CEO Warren Morgan, who has been at the job for seven months now, broke down a proposed deficit reduction plan to the media before education board members were to consider the proposal at a Tuesday evening meeting.

Specifically, he made clear the plan did not include school closures and that they were doing everything possible to not make cuts to the teaching staff (although Morgan said he couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be layoffs).

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Between 2020 and 2021, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund gave nearly $190 billion in relief funding to school districts to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the face of the $143 million deficit, Morgan outlined the areas he and his team devised to make cuts:

  • District Central Office: Layoffs and displaced vacancies are expected, impacting a minimum of 25 people/jobs. There are also plans to cut travel and food costs.

  • Summer learning: The plan is to cap program at 3,500 students and implement 180 minutes per day of instructional learning, along with testing to determine impact

  • Out of school time programs: There are 93 outside providers offering programming, many of which (determined at a later date) will be cut from funding. This does not include other programming like sports, music and arts-based after school programs that already existed prior to the pandemic.

  • Aligning school calendars: Saving money by making all schools offer the same amount of days

  • Student technology: Rethinking its 1:1 student-to-device strategy, while thinking of other ways (ie: the city) to fund free hotspots set up for students

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Above all, Morgan said the school-based budget, the money each school already gets every year, would remain the same. He also said employee benefits would not be impacted by cuts.

The goal of the revised budget was to make sure there was not a deficit for the next two years, but, as seen below, there is still much work to do ahead:

So had did this happen? Morgan said this was always something they knew about, losing the COVID funding, but that he wasn’t sure how much it was on the public’s radar. He said the money, nearly half a billion dollars, served as a stop gap.

“The COVID dollars helped us out, we would have seen this [deficit] earlier had we not gotten that,” he said Tuesday. “It helped us to fill gaps and maintain funding in a way that gave us a sense we were OK … now all of that money is going away.”

As for the unrestricted MacKenzie Scott $20 million donation from last year, that’s all being reappropriated to help with the deficit, and there are no other donations coming in this year.

Morgan said the kids in the district remain school officials’ No. 1 priority. However, “We owe a responsibility to our community and our state to make sure we’re fiscally sound,” he said.

The plan must be submitted to the state by Feb. 29, according to a proposed resolution that’s going before board members at a work session set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Cleveland Teachers Union sent FOX 8 an official response to the planned budget cuts:

I am always pleased to see a deficit reduction plan that prevents cuts from reaching the classroom door. While we have serious concerns around calendar changes that would negatively impact our year round, extended day, and extended year schools, keeping reductions away from the classroom is important for our students and the community.

“This deficit reduction plan is exactly what I would have expected to have seen last November. It makes perfect sense to stop spending the ARP/ESSR funds when they expire. It is disappointing that these decisions were pushed to February and triggered the state plan, as opposed to presenting a balanced budget in a more timely manner.”

Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski

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