Although the Youngstown city schools system shed its state-designated fiscal emergency status more than a year ago, its finances are far from stable. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the future of the urban district as bleak.
With the loss of $4 million in funding from the state as a result of more than 500 students departing, major decisions must be made regarding the overall operation.
Who will make those decisions? The elected members of the board of education have ultimate responsibility, but the education professionals, led by Superintendent Connie Hathorn, are in the best position to identify the budget cuts that need to be made. Hathorn has been clear that while everything is on the table, including the possible closing of schools and staffing, his priority is to ensure the educational advancement of the students.
Youngstown is still in academic emergency and a state commission has been working with the Ohio Department of Education and local officials on a recovery plan.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner let it be known that he expects the district to advance from academic watch to continuous improvement in the next state proficiency examination. If there is no advancement, the state could come in and change the entire profile of the district.
With so much riding on the district’s finances, the importance of the treasurer cannot be overstated. William Johnson, who has been in the position since 2007 and was in the thick of things during the fiscal emergency, is retiring in July. The district was put under the management of a fiscal oversight commission in 2006 and shed that control last year.
Johnson takes with him in-depth knowledge of a district that appears to take one step forward and two steps back.
In order to ensure a seamless transition, the new treasurer must have the same level of expertise and the same insight and foresight as the man who is leaving.
That’s a tall order, but the board of education can find some comfort in the fact that the four finalists for the job do have solid credentials.
The appointment should be made later this month or early next moth.
There were eight applicants through the Ohio School Boards Association and the four were selected after an interview process that included a representative of the academic distress commission sitting in on some of them.
The finalists are: Teresa L. Emmerling of Massillon, treasurer/chief financial officer of Massillon City Schools; Annette Harmon of Chagrin Falls, assistant treasurer of East Cleveland City Schools; Sherry Tyson of Boardman, Youngstown schools federal, state and local grants manager; and Mark Zimov, former treasurer/CFO of Madison Local Schools.
As the board of education deliberates, members would do well to not only include the academic distress commissioners, but also the state superintendent, Haffner. He has first-hand knowledge of the trials and tribulations of the Youngstown City School District and has not been shy about warning that time is running out on reversing its academic — and now financial — fortunes.
There are no second chances for the city school system. A strong management team, along with a school board that it is clear in its vision and a state education department that’s willing to use all its resources to help, could give the district the weapons it needs to survive.