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SCHOOLS Struthers under fiscal watch because of lack of plan



Published: Thu, January 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The district hopes to overcome fiscal problems with passage of a levy in May.

STRUTHERS -- The state auditor's office has placed the city school district under fiscal watch, saying the district failed to submit an adequate plan to eliminate projected shortfalls this year and next.

The state's decision comes more than two months after the auditor's office placed the district under fiscal caution because its five-year forecast included a $1.8 million deficit in 2005 and $3.3 million deficit in 2006.

The district's budget this year is about $19 million.

A district with a deficit of more than 8 percent of its annual budget is placed under fiscal caution. Failing to submit a plan to eliminate the shortfall prompts a fiscal watch.

Struthers' plan proposes cutting just $650,000 of this year's $1.8 million deficit. Dr. Sandi DiBacco, schools superintendent, said that's because school leaders are still drawing up plans for a tax levy to plug the remaining shortfalls.

Voters will decide on the tax increase in May, DiBacco said. A Feb. 8 meeting is scheduled to unveil the levy amount.

DiBacco welcomed the fiscal watch because it enables the state to review the budget and propose solutions.

"I don't look at it as a bad thing," she said. "This is a way to help the district."

Other Mahoning Valley districts under fiscal watch are Sebring, Columbiana, Niles, Bristol and East Liverpool.

No teacher layoffs

No teacher layoffs are included in the district's budget-cutting plan, DiBacco said. School leaders plan to lay off four instructional aides and reduce the hours of six secretaries in July.

The budget ax could eliminate some custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others who don't teach, she said.

Teaching positions freed up by retirements could stay vacant.

In making staff reductions, DiBacco said, "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't."

"It's a Catch-22 situation," she said. "You need staff to make progress, but that doesn't come cheap."

The district has laid off no teachers since DiBacco took over as superintendent in 1999, she said.

The auditor's office and state Department of Education will offer to review the district's budget.

"We can help them get back on track," said Tammy Ridout, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

DiBacco said the district's fiscal woes stem from state cuts and soaring health-care costs.




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