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CANFIELD State education officials to check school district's finances



Published: Thu, January 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The next public forum to discuss the levy will be Feb. 7 in Cornersburg.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CANFIELD -- Ohio Department of Education officials are coming to the Canfield schools next week, and they're bringing calculators.

The officials, who work for the department's school finance division, have been asked by the Canfield school board to double-check the board's budget projections for the next two years. The projections could be the basis of a school levy campaign this spring.

Superintendent Doug Hiscox said the board felt it would be best for the state to understand the district's finances before local residents vote on a levy.

"We wanted to be proactive, rather than have them come in and say, 'We already have a problem, help us fix it,'" Hiscox said.

What's needed: The projections show that the district will need an additional $1.3 million to cover operational expenses in fiscal year 2003. The board has discussed placing an operations levy on the May ballot.

Dante Zambrini, the district's director of administrative services, stressed that the education department officials won't make recommendations on the district's budget.

Hiscox talked briefly about the visit during a public forum Wednesday. It was one of two held Wednesday to discuss the operations levy. A public forum also will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Zion Lutheran Church in Cornersburg.

Covered in forum: Topics included insurance costs, professional development, and the purchase of property. About 20 people attended, including several school administrators and school board members.

District operations are paid for with state money and a 6.9-mill, five-year operating levy that was passed in 1994 and renewed in 1999. About $2.2 million is collected through the levy each year.

The district has a $19.5 million general fund budget this year.

Increase in costs: Hiscox noted that the amount of money collected has not changed since 1994. Meanwhile, costs have increased by an average of 4 percent each year, he said.

"By year five, you usually see a reason to go to the ballot," Hiscox said of the 1994 levy. "We're in our eighth year."

Hiscox also noted that during the last year, board has been faced with insurance costs that increased by about $500,000. The board had expected insurance costs to increase by $250,000. Hiscox said district employees pay about 5 percent of the insurance costs.

He also noted that the board has already cut a total of $248,000 from noncontract accounts in this year's budget in an effort to save money. The board also cut $161,000 out of the proposed budget next year.

Some residents said they felt voters need to understand that tax money is needed to maintain the quality of the schools and the community.

"Having strong schools benefits us," said Becky Schaub. "We are producing young people who can go out in the world and do what needs to be done. If you want that for your community, you have to pay for it."

Hiscox said that without additional funds in 2003, the district would not have enough money in the carry-over to pay for increased costs. The state auditor could then declare that the district is in a fiscal emergency and appoint an oversight commission to handle district finances.

hill@vindy.com




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