BOARD OF EDUCATION Officials to discuss solutions to district's financial problems

The board is limited by its contract with the teachers union, one member said.
AUSTINTOWN -- School board member Brad Gessner said if necessary, he's ready to settle in for a long discussion today about the financial future of the school district.
"I will sit there until midnight and discuss what we can do to cut our spending, increase our revenue and not ask for a levy," Gessner said, noting that he has taken today off from his job as an assistant prosecutor in Summit County to make time for the meeting.
The school board was to meet at 7:30 a.m. in the board offices to consider taking the first step toward placing a five-year, 5.9-mill levy on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the levy would allow the district to collect an additional $3.2 million annually.
The same levy failed by about 2,900 votes in November 2003.
Gessner said in particular, he wants to hear proposals from fellow school board member Michael Creatore, who has told The Vindicator that spending cuts are needed before the board asks for more tax money.
"If [Creatore] would talk to the board as much as he talks to the press, maybe he could do something," Gessner said. He added that if the board can find a way to increase revenue and decrease spending without passing a levy or affecting the education provided to students, "I'd be all for it.
"This is one issue that shouldn't be about politics," Gessner said.
Gessner said the school board has cut about $2 million in spending over the past two years to avoid deficits. Schools Treasurer Barb Kliner has predicted that the board will have a $1.6 million deficit at the end of next school year.
Has a proposal
Creatore responded that he will make a proposal for the district's financial future this morning but that he didn't want to talk about it until he discusses it with the board. He also said, however, that he believes many of the district's financial problems stem from its contract with the teachers union, and he noted that the contract makes it difficult to lay off teachers.
"The board of education, through the union contracts, has negotiated away its authority to properly run the school district," Creatore said.
The contract states that the school board can't lay off teachers to save money unless the total cost of teachers' salaries and fringe benefits exceeds 65 percent of total general fund expenditures from the previous fiscal year.
Last fiscal year, the district spent a total of about $22 million on teacher salaries and benefits, which is 64.7 percent of the $34 million the board spent from its general fund in the 2003 fiscal year.
The contract also limits the number of layoffs to one for every $75,000 that spending on salaries and fringe benefits exceeds 65 percent of total general fund expenditures. The board also is not allowed to lay off more than 10 teachers.
Gessner said some of the topics he'd like to discuss this morning include allowing open enrollment in the district to raise revenue, rehiring teachers at a lower salary after they retire to save money, changing transportation, and pushing for future employee wage freezes.

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