The sheriff said layoffs will leave him without enough deputies for the schools.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Staff and pupils in the Western Reserve School District are feeling the pinch of Mahoning County's budget troubles.
Beginning next month, there no longer will be a deputy sheriff assigned to the district as a security officer.
Because of a reduction in his 2003 budget allocation, Sheriff Randall Wellington plans to lay off about 60 deputies by the end of this month. The first seven were furloughed this week.
Wellington said most of his deputies will be needed to staff the county jail and provide security at the courthouse. He'll have no deputies available for special details such as school resource officers and drug task forces.
"The commissioners knew that when they cut my budget," Wellington said. "All I can do to keep my head above water is keep the jail open."
Superintendent Charles Swindler and several administrators and pupils told commissioners Thursday that losing Deputy Shannon DiTullo would be a blow to the district.
Swindler said Western Reserve is the only school district in the county that isn't served by a local police department, so it relies on the sheriff's department, and specifically on DiTullo, to fill that void.
"She just cannot be replaced," Swindler said. "To remove her at this time hurts our district and our students."
The school contingent asked commissioners to keep DiTullo on the job, but commissioners said that's not their call.
Once the board appropriates money to various departments, it's up to each officeholder to decide how it's spent, said Commissioner Ed Reese.
In this case, it's Wellington's call to lay off the deputies and do away with special details.
Started with D.A.R.E.
Wellington said Western Reserve and Jackson-Milton are the county's only school districts with deputies assigned as resource officers. They started three years ago as part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which is funded through a state grant.
"It was so successful that when the grant expired, we just decided to keep them there," Wellington said, noting that the grant expired after the first two years.
Wellington said he told commissioners weeks ago about the impact of his budget cut, but they didn't listen. Commissioners, in turn, said they alerted Wellington and all other elected officials last summer that their budgets would be sharply reduced this year.
Wellington asked for $16.9 million to operate this year, plus $900,000 for safety upgrades and training. Commissioners appropriated him only $12.5 million for the year.
Commissioners have said that if the county's juvenile and probate court judges win lawsuits they've filed against commissioners for more money, Wellington is likely to take even more of a hit.
They said the money will come from the sheriff's department because it gets the lion's share of general fund money. Wellington says the continual cutting is unfair to his department.
Joseph Caruso, county special projects director, said he'll work with the school districts in looking for grants to help fund school officers in the future.