Voters come to the aid of struggling McDonald school system

By Ed Runyan

MCDONALD — Passage of a 4.9-mill, five year, emergency operating levy won’t solve all of the McDonald school district’s financial problems, but the new money is a step toward putting the district back on solid footing, the superintendent said.

“I am so happy. It is typical McDonald,” said Michael Wasser, McDonald schools superintendent. “When somebody is down or somebody is sick, the people come to their aid. McDonald people always come to the rescue,” he said.

The village school district recently learned that it has a $2.1 million deficit because of financial problems that went unreported by a former treasurer.

Voters approved the levy by 53 percent. It will raise $260,000 a year.

The district’s finances are being scrutinized by the Ohio Auditor’s office following the discovery of the deficit, and the district is in fiscal emergency.

As recently as February, the district thought it was facing a deficit of only $217,000.

School board member Jeff Hughes said the board doesn’t have immediate plans for the additional money until more of the financial issues are sorted out.

“The board is looking at it [levy passage] as a step in the right direction,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Liberty Township, the board of education will have to address its $1 million current-year shortfall without the benefit of the $2.3 million in additional money per year it sought from voters on Tuesday.

Voters said no Tuesday to a 9.9-mill, 10-year additional levy.

It’s the second time voters said no to the levy, rejected it by 83 percent in May. This time it failed by 74 percent.

The district cut about $1 million from its budget last year and this year. The state will be advising the district on its finances, and the board will have to make some decisions about how to eliminate additional expenses, said Mark Lucas, Liberty superintendent.

Lucas said the district has reduced its payroll by eight to 10 employees in the past year, increased class sizes at the lower grade levels, reduced busing costs and some high school art electives and a middle school computer class.

The district has said much of the district’s financial problems are traced to the EdChoice vouchers given to 125 Liberty youngsters allowing them to attend private schools. This is the third year for the vouchers.

The district is still in discussions about whether to take legal action in an attempt to argue that the vouchers, along with the state school-funding formula, are unconstitutional.

Levies were also turned down in the Mathews and Weatherfield school districts, but Niles approved a 4.6-mill school levy renewal.

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