Niles school directors take hard look at expenses as shortfall looms

Board members are now questioning items normally considered routine.
NILES -- Cuts in funding and a state-imposed financial watch have the board of education questioning school district spending practices.
Board member John Davis said during Tuesday's meeting he was willing to accept his share of the responsibility, but "won't let anyone else shirk their responsibility" for the financial status of the district, which is expected to see a $2.92 million shortfall in the general fund by the end of the school year.
"I'm not blaming Columbus entirely, though they are not faultless," he said, referring to Gov. Bob Taft's recent announcement of cuts totaling close to $10 million throughout the state. "But apparently the board said, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,' too many times."
State Auditor Betty Montgomery placed the 3,057-pupil district on financial watch last week, triggered by the projected debt. The district expects total revenues in the current year of $21.6 million, but expenditures of $24.6 million. Rising costs in health care and liability, fleet and property insurance contributed to the debt.
School officials already projected a $660,000 shortfall in the $22 million general fund, but the additional cuts and increases in expenditures pushed the total higher.
Superintendent Patrick N. Guliano said school officials have met with representatives from the auditor's office and the Ohio Department of Education five times since last month's board meeting, and added a performance audit on the district should start by the end of the week.
Under fiscal watch, the district must develop and submit a financial plan to eliminate the projected debt to the ODE, which will evaluate and approve or reject it.
Current expenses
But Davis and other board members are looking at current expenses throughout the district, and looking for what can be cut now.
"We're in debt deeper than I can even spell," he said.
During the meeting, Davis and member John Tricomi voted against resolutions considered routine items at previous board meetings, asking before their votes what the items would cost the district. The items included approving people to be added to the district's lists of certified and classified substitute lists.
Substitutes approved by boards of education are only paid if their services are used.
In the past, meeting agendas often lumped such lists into one resolution, but members agreed Tuesday to consider each of the items separately.
In each case, Davis and Tricomi voted no, and President Terry Swauger and members Nick Bernard and Rocky Riviella were in favor.
The board will meet in special session at 6:30 p.m. April 8 in the board offices, 100 West St., to further discuss the financial problems. The next regular board meeting will be April 24 at a location to be announced. The work session will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the meeting at 7.

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