State Auditor Jim Petro has a message for officials of the financially troubled Lordstown School District: Don't ask the voters for more money until the necessary belt-tightening has occurred. The cuts the auditor is recommending are without a doubt a bitter pill, but given the district's state fiscal emergency status, there are no other options.
Petro has said, for example, the district would save $900,000 a year by slashing 10 high school teaching positions and two service jobs. That's what the board of education must consider. Why?
Because if voters are to be asked in November to approve a levy increase, which they rejected in May, members of the school board and the administration must be in a position to show that all cost-cutting measures recommended by the state auditor have been implemented.
The following statement in the performance audit released last week will undoubtedly become the clarion call for critics of the system:
Fiscal responsibility: "These data clearly show that the district's financial situation is not due to a lack of revenue, but rather is due to the manner in which revenues are managed. Before asking the community for additional tax dollars, it must become more fiscally responsible for the dollars currently being received."
The auditor's report has drawn the attention of the state commission appointed to oversee the school district finances. The panel intends to conduct two analyses of school staffing to determine where cuts may be made.
Superintendent Ray Getz is right when he says that to cut a teaching position the district must make sure there is someone else certified to teach the subject, but such are the challenges that confront a school district facing a $1.3 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year.
The state auditor contends that Lordstown's staffing levels exceed those of similar districts like McDonald, Weatherfield and Minster, which begs the question, "Why?" It's a question that the school board should be prepared to answer because it is certain to be asked by those who oppose a tax levy.
Special meeting: School board members plan a special meeting for Aug. 8 to discuss the levy, and they should take the opportunity to let the voters know that the recommendations contained in the state audit are being taken seriously and, where possible, will be adopted in the near future.
Because staff salaries and benefits amount to about 89 percent of the district's budget, leaving only 11 percent for other district expenses, reductions in personnel costs are inevitable. The board of education would be hard-pressed to persuade voters to approve a levy in November if there is only a cursory decrease in spending.