LORDSTOWN Panel asks who will cover funds

A meeting with state officials is planned for later this month.
LORDSTOWN -- With the Gordon D. James Career Center not expected to open next school year, state fiscal oversight commission members want to know who's responsible for paying expenses such as unemployment.
Last month, Niles school board members rejected a five-year contract to continue as a member of the James Center compact, opting to join the Trumbull Career & amp; Technical Center instead.
That leaves the compact with McDonald, Weathersfield, Lordstown and Howland school districts, with Lordstown as the fiscal agent.
Because Niles sent the most students to the center, it also paid the most in tuition.
The remaining districts are exploring their options of how to proceed to continue to meet the state requirement to provide adequate career and technical education for juniors and seniors.
"Clearly, the Gordon James Career Center building should not be expected in its present form to be operating in the coming school year," said Superintendent Ray Getz.
Still seeking answers: He said he and the other district superintendents have talked with officials from the Ohio Department of Education about their options, but the answers have been few.
A meeting is planned for Jan. 29 with state officials, but Getz is doubtful a solution will materialize from that.
William Wenger, chairman of the commission appointed to oversee Lordstown district finances, said closure of the career center would mean abolishment of those positions and involve costs such as unemployment and retirement benefits and severance pay for those who lose their jobs.
"Those expenses should come back to those five schools," Wenger said.
"That opinion may not be shared by some or all of our member schools," Getz said.
Wenger said he has asked Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office for an opinion.
Districts' options: Under Ohio law, districts have three options for providing career and technical education for their students. One is to provide it within the district, which Wenger said isn't an option because of the small enrollment at the James center. Another option is to become part of a joint district. The third is to contract with other agencies to provide the programs.
Lordstown doesn't plan to join TCTC. "First we have determine are there other alternatives available to us," Getz said.
The remaining districts have asked ODE for a waiver for a year on the vocational education requirement, but ODE hasn't responded. Any changes could set a precedent for other districts around the state, Getz said.
If the James center closes, personnel have the option of bumping people in positions at the other district schools with less seniority, leaving the district personnel situation in limbo.
"We can't sit and let this thing foment," Wenger said. "What you're doing now is the right thing to do, but realistically, we're going to come to a time when we have to make a call on this."

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