Auditors praise progress



The district would save about $3.1 million annually, they estimate.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
STRUTHERS -- A state performance audit complimented Struthers City Schools in several areas, but made recommendations that Superintendent Sandra DiBacco said would hurt the district from an education perspective.
Key recommendations by state Auditor Betty Montgomery, based on the audit triggered by the school district being placed in fiscal emergency, include reducing the regular teaching staff by 23 to save about $1 million a year.
Auditors also say Struthers Schools should reduce up to eight full-time employees in the education service personnel classification, which includes art, music and physical education teachers, counselors and nurses. The estimated cost savings would be $619,000 a year.
Other recommendations include renegotiating to require all full-time employees, and those receiving full benefits, to pay 10 percent of their health care and dental premiums. That, along with altering plan benefit levels, could save $514,000 a year, auditors said.
If all the recommendations were implemented, state auditors estimate the district would save $3.1 million a year.
Superintendent's perspective
DiBacco said the school district has already reduced its certified staff by 81/2 through layoffs and attrition, resulting in an annual savings of nearly $1.4 million.
Those include three regular teachers; two vocational teachers; one each of Title I and physical education teachers; half music teacher; and a nurse, DiBacco said.
Classified staff reductions include three custodians; two janitorial technicians; 2.65 cafeteria technicians; 3.8 instruction aides through resignations, and 2.5 bus drivers who retired, none of whom were replaced.
"You don't want to make cuts, but when most of your money goes toward personnel, there is no other way," DiBacco said.
In other cost-cutting measures, the superintendent said administrators gave back 2 percent pay increases for 2005-06, and changed health insurance to save money. Also, Board of Education members donated their salaries to the district.
Auditors praised Struthers Schools for reducing clerical staffing levels for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 and effectively controlling overtime. They said the district's maintenance and repair spending per bus are less than the average of other districts.
Validated officials' actions
DiBacco said the audit substantiated many of the difficult decisions already made, provided valuable information to the district and will serve as a tool for future decisions.
"The community just refuses to believe the numbers ... the things that the audit proves we are doing," DiBacco said.
However, DiBacco added, the reductions recommended by state auditors are unrealistic.
She said Struthers Schools' state report card rating has moved up from continuous improvement to effective, and the district has been designated a School of Promise for four consecutive years.
The bottom line, DiBacco said, is having 25 to 30 kids in classes doesn't get you those kinds of achievements.
"Get rid of teachers, and your report card goes down," she said.
However, DiBacco said if the additional 6.9-mill continuous property tax levy doesn't pass on Nov. 8, the state Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, which oversees the district during the fiscal emergency, may order drastic cuts.
The levy would raise about $931,500 a year. However, DiBacco said that residents would only experience about a 5-mill increase in their taxes because when the district refinanced the bond issue used to build the Middle School, it realized savings on interest equivalent to 1.9 mills of property tax.
alcorn@vindy.com

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