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Lack of info tables layoff measure



Published: Wed, July 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The board will probably take up the issue again on Aug. 16.

STRUTHERS -- The school board tabled a measure to lay off 16 Struthers schools employees Tuesday, saying it needed more information about a state audit of school district personnel and salaries.

But the board's chairman says they're just postponing the inevitable.

"It's not a matter of we don't need them," board president Matt Rhoads said of the measure, which would have eliminated the equivalent of 12 full-time positions, mostly on the maintenance, janitorial and cafeteria staffs. "It's a matter of economic need."

The school district, which has been in fiscal emergency since May, needed a $1.9 million loan from the state last month to operate through the end of the fiscal year June 30. The district actually ended the year $311,000 in the black, but must repay the loan over a two-year period.

Formulating a plan

A commission made up of state education officials and community members is working with the district to formulate a plan to return the district to solvency.

District superintendent Dr. Sandra DiBacco said the layoffs would result in a savings of $200,000 over a school year.

"If you think I want to see you lose your jobs, I don't," DiBacco said to a crowd of about 40 people which packed the board of education office, including several of the employees proposed for layoffs and other staff members. "We are trying to see if we have any alternatives."

A return to Struthers voters for approval of a 6.9-mill operating levy will be one of those alternatives. The board approved a resolution to prepare for putting the levy on the November ballot. Struthers voters rejected an 8-mill levy in May.

District treasurer Dr. Michael Evanson said that the county auditor's office would determine how much revenue would be generated by the levy. But the district's budget projections indicated that the district could be about $424,000 in the black by the end of next school year if it passes.

Declining state funding levels over the last decade have contributed to the district's financial woes, board members said.

"We've lost a lot of state funds and that's at least two-thirds of the situation," board member Kandace Becker-Hagendorn said.

Who gets cut?

But staff members and others in attendance questioned whether the proposed staff reductions would make the situation better.

"Couldn't there be any other places to cut besides the janitorial staff?" said Melanie Banfield, one of four janitorial techs whose positions were targeted for layoffs. Five cafeteria techs, three custodians and four instructional aides were also named in the list.

Several members of the public questioned whether there would be staff reductions among administrative and teaching staff. DiBacco said that the equivalent of 2-1/2 full-time administrative positions and 7-1/2 teaching positions had already been eliminated.

The board decided to postpone a vote on the layoffs after several members expressed concerns that they had not been able to see a preliminary version of the state auditor's report that DiBacco's layoff proposal was based on.

The board voted 4-0, with Rhoads not voting, to table the proposal.

DiBacco said that she had discussed the preliminary findings with the board during a 40-minute executive session at the start of the meeting, but that she did not give them a copy of the report so that it wouldn't become public record.

She said she expected to receive a finalized report in one to two weeks.

Rhoads said the board will address the issue again at an Aug. 16 meeting, but in the interim, the commission could direct the board to take the layoff action.




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