School budgets

EASTERN OHIO school districts are constantly battling budget issues. There is nary a school system that doesn’t have a financial concern.

That theme was reinforced recently as Belmont County school districts individually met with the county budget commission to review 2012-13 fiscal year budgets. As expected, the message was anything but upbeat.

Belmont County Auditor Andy Sutak delivered each district some sobering news. Sutak updated school officials on educational funding cuts, the phasing out of tangible property and deregulation reimbursements to schools.

It all adds up to increased pressure on districts to make end meets. For most, if not all, it will be no easy task.

Local school districts have been squeezed for years with sub-par state funding. Additional cuts will only make a bad situation worse.

Sutak noted the continued slicing of state monies will be harmful. He added that no new funding formula is in the works.

The one potential saving grace for local schools is the windfall coming from the burgeoning oil and gas drilling industry. While not a total cure-all, the leasing business can help relieve shortfalls in school coffers.

Some Belmont County school districts have already tapped that money source. Union Local and Martins Ferry are two of the first districts to broker deals with drilling companies.

Some districts such as Bellaire and Shadyside may not as fortunate as they have little available acreage.

The financial plight of our schools is further hampered by the difficulty of gaining levy passage. Bellaire is proof positive of such voter apathy.

Consolidation is frequently mentioned as way to remedy the situation. But as would be expected, it is one that is not warmly embraced by parents or students.

To quiet such talk, school officials, more than ever, will need to rely on creativity, vision and restraint to navigate through turbulent financial waters.