Open enrollment to be OK'd
The district will eliminate about 10 classified positions.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Despite numerous comments from taxpayers, including two township trustees, against open enrollment, the school board is prepared to approve the policy at its May 17 meeting.
Board member Michael Creatore, who is adamantly opposed to open enrollment, said at Tuesday's meeting that incoming Superintendent Doug Heuer had prepared a proposal and a resolution to adopt the policy. Creatore said he was surprised it wasn't on Tuesday's agenda.
Board President Brad Gessner said the proposal is still in draft form, but will be ready by next month's meeting. The board had previously indicated it would approve some form of open enrollment.
But that didn't stop numerous people from speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Among those against open enrollment is township Trustee Lisa Oles, who told the board that it would negatively affect Austintown.
Without specifically saying Youngstown, Oles said the township borders "one of the most academically challenged school systems" in Ohio. She expressed concerns about added pressure on teachers and decreased property values.
She also read a letter from Trustee Bo Pritchard, who said open enrollment would cause the housing demand in the township to significantly decrease. People could send their children to Austintown schools and not have to live here, he wrote.
Also, open enrollment could endanger future tax levy proposals because voters would be angry over the policy being enacted against their will, Pritchard wrote.
Open enrollment lets schools accept pupils from outside their district with the state paying the per-pupil fee. In Austintown, that is about $5,200 a pupil.
Former Trustee Jeff Groat, whose wife is an elementary school teacher in Austintown, said open enrollment would be a "monumental mistake" for the district.
Gessner said he understands why some oppose open enrollment, but the school system is losing money and there are few options left.
"I'm absolutely concerned what it could do to the school system," he said after the meeting in the Austintown Fitch High School cafeteria. "But we are elected to make these tough decisions."
Gessner said he didn't know how many pupils from outside the township would take advantage of open enrollment or how much money it would bring to the school district.
Gessner said a tax levy on the November ballot isn't a viable option because voters have rejected the last two operational levies, including one last year.
But in a March 24 letter to an Ohio Department of Education official, Barbara J. Kliner, schools treasurer, wrote that the board "is considering levy options. At this time, we are not able to say what millage will be needed and placed on the ballot in November, but some type of levy will be" on the ballot.
The district's initial deficit projection for the 2005-06 school year was $2 million.
That was reduced to $1.2 million, primarily through the elimination of 10 teaching positions, and a reduction in supplies, Gessner said.
The district also plans to cut about 10 nonteaching employee positions this month and is looking at the possibility of a less expensive health care plan, he said.
Further program cuts are also an option, Gessner said.
At Tuesday's meeting, the board approved developing a policy to permit the rehiring of retirees as a way to reduce expenses. The policy would be part of employee negotiations.
The rehiring of retirees would allow the school district to hire experienced teachers at a reduced salary and without school-paid medical benefits, Gessner said.
The district has more than 45 teachers with at least 30 years of experience.
Creatore voted against the rehiring retirees resolution, saying it was too vague and further discussion is needed. The other four board members approved the resolution.
A combination of staffing cuts, rehiring retirees, a cheaper health care plan and open enrollment could eliminate the district's projected $1.2 million deficit, Gessner said.