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How The 'New Normal' Is Reshaping Cincinnati Public Schools' Budget

Ambriehl Crutchfield

Cincinnati Public Schools is finalizing its budget for next year. A few factors, including the pandemic and money from the federal stimulus, must be considered.

CPS will approve its budget for the next fiscal year by June 28. Since the state's budget isn't finalized yet, it could impact some of the district's decisions. It also needs to consider what the "new normal" will look like following the pandemic. CFO and Treasurer Jennifer Wagner explains.

"The whole pandemic shifted a lot of our delivery services in terms of blended learning, online learning, remote learning and access to that," she said.

Nearly $300 million in federal stimulus will aid CPS going forward, but Wagner warns the district must be careful not to spend the money too quickly.

"We don't want to spend it too quickly because if I spend money too fast, then it becomes a cash flow problem for me while I wait for them to reimburse me, and we don't want to take that risk," Wagner said.

Roughly $92 million is coming from the CARES Act and more than $200 million comes from the American Rescue Plan.

Board members brought up concerns earlier this year the budget would be impacted by a drop in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the state's funding formula involves those numbers. But Wagner says the district is seeing students return for next year, mostly from the preschool and kindergarten grade levels.

"Our high school grades actually grew in enrollment throughout the year," Wagner said. "We temporarily lost 1,300 students, but we're already seeing that recovery in terms of planning for next year. We have every confidence that we will be at the same enrollment or higher pre-COVID."

CPS saw a nearly 4% dip in enrollment between October 2019 and March 2021. Nearly 5,000 students withdrew from the district during the 2020-21 school year. That's significant, considering it took seven years for the district to grow that much - in 2019, it was reported that CPS saw an enrollment  increase of over 4,462 students since 2013.

The budget target for the next fiscal year is $670 million and is based off the district's five-year forecast. Last year's budget was $647 million.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.