Youngstown schools should avoid levy attempt

It is encouraging to see Youngstown city school officials planning concrete, yet painful actions to stave off financial calamity for the district. It is disturbing, however, that one possible cog in those plans would sock residents with an additional tax levy.
To be sure, the district's fiscal crisis demands quick and structural changes. To their credit, school officials expect to save nearly $8.5 million through eliminating nearly 100 jobs, cutting back on supplies and intervention programs and encouraging early retirements.
Unfortunately, those savings -- if achieved -- would not fully erase a projected $11.7 million deficit by the end of next school year, school officials say.
That's why talk of a tax levy for the November ballot is gaining momentum. We suggest school officials abandon any thoughts of a quick-fix levy and instead chart deeper cuts and other cost-saving initiatives. In so doing, school officials would demonstrate accountability to a public that continues to have reason to doubt and distrust its leadership.
Who can blame cynical city residents? Youngstown school leaders have shown a disturbing lack of foresight in recent years in some areas of fiscal management. For example, the last contract with the Youngstown Education Association gave teachers generous raises in each year of the pact. Teachers and employees throughout the district have been spared any sharing of costs for health-care premiums. Such largesse flies in the face of fiscal responsibility.
What to do?
The district should stop thinking about co-pays for health-care premiums and work aggressively to negotiate and institute them for all employees. If employees picked up 10 percent of the cost, the district would save $1.2 million annually, the district's treasurer has said. Other savings could be achieved by freezing wages in future labor pacts, exploring lower-cost health plans and expanding the proposed reduction in work force.
Current plans call for elimination of 56 of the district's 374 teaching positions, 21.5 of the district's 111 administrative posts and 18 of the 480 classified staff for a total projected salary savings of $6,283,241.
Some teachers have argued that the district is top-heavy with administrators. Data from the Ohio Department of Education would appear to give that claim credence. Youngstown and Elyria are both urban districts with about the same number of pupils and teachers. Youngstown, however, has 111 administrators compared with 53 in Elyria.
Finances aside, district residents would be loath to approve a tax levy when the school system has slipped back into the failing category of academic emergency on state-issued report cards and when thousands of potential pupils have opted for charter schools or flight to neighboring school districts.
Clearly it is time for Superintendent Wendy Webb, the administration, teachers and staff to work tirelessly to restore academic excellence, fiscal integrity and public confidence. Those objectives won't be achieved by trying to reach deeper and deeper into the pockets of district taxpayers.

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