Scope of Liberty schools’ deficit remains unknown
By Robert Guttersohn
State auditors are still unable to determine Liberty schools’ actual deficit.
The auditors made the announcement Wednesday during the Liberty fiscal commission meeting.
“We have made great strides,” said Nita Hendryx, one of three state auditors going through the district’s books. “Our hope is to have the deficit certified for the next committee meeting in late October.”
The commission was appointed by the Ohio Department of Education after it declared Liberty in fiscal emergency July 11.
The commission faces two deadlines: a Nov. 2 deadline for submitting to the state department its initial recovery plan for the district and a December deadline, when Liberty Treasurer James Wilson said it will need help paying its bills until February when it collects property taxes.
The district also presented to the commission details of how the school operates from its class scheduling to the details of its current union contract, which has been in effect since 2008. Roger Nehls, chairman of the commission, focused on the benefits portion.
Nehls said the amount Liberty pays in teacher benefits is equal to 49 percent of the teacher’s salary while the state average is 36 percent.
For example, for a teacher that makes $50,000 a year, Liberty pays an additional $24,500 in benefits.
“I’ve not seen any [school districts] that have been that far skewed from the norm,” Nehls said. “So that’s significant.”
The commission can change a union contract only when reducing force for fiscal reasons, Nehls said. It cannot go into a union contract and alter the benefits.
“What we would typically do is define it as an area of the contract that really needs to be a priority ... for the board when it sits down and talks with its bargaining members.”
Wilson said the union is currently working under 2008’s contract, which was rolled over without a termination date.
“Essentially right now there’s no contract in place,” Wilson said. “They are just using the old contract as the current contract.”
Superintendent Stan Watson said the board of education and the union are unable to negotiate a new contract because of the financial mess the district is in but is sure negotiations will begin once the deficit is known and the fiscal committee allows it.
The commission meets again 11 a.m. Oct. 26 in the high school’s community room.