By danny restivo
Local and state officials are hoping to create a new road to financial recovery for the Liberty school district.
The Liberty board of education is meeting with the state-appointed financial-oversight commission today for the first time since the district fell into fiscal emergency in 2011.
Paul Marshall, chairman of the oversight commission, said he’s hoping to discuss staffing, shared services and a potential tax levy with the board.
“At some point, someone is going to have to ask the voters for more money, but reductions come first,” he said.
In January, the board unanimously approved a $1.2 million deficit- reduction plan that eliminated 161/2 full-time jobs.
Marshall said the district is looking at $1.3 million in cuts by next year, but that number could drop after the treasurer and the auditor further review the district’s finances.
Superintendent Stan Watson said he’s willing to listen to the commission, but the prospect of cutting could risk the school’s academic standing. The school was designated effective, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s 2010-11 report card. He said more budget reductions could jeopardize student performance.
“How can we continue a good job in the classroom with more cuts?” asked Watson.
He said the students have performed well despite the district’s financial woes.
The board and the commission also must discuss paying back $1.8 million the school borrowed from ODE. Watson said the payment will be broken down into two $900,000 payments over a two-year period.
Joseph Nohra, board president and Struthers schools assistant superintendent, said he’s hoping for a dialogue between the two groups so they can explore potential answers to the district’s problems.
“It will be an opening of airwaves to see how we can get out of this fiscal mess,” said Nohra.
Watson and Nohra said the district hasn’t prioritized services or staff for looming cuts or shared services.
Earlier this month, Liberty hired Rhonda Baldwin-Amorganos, Hubbard treasurer, as the interim treasurer, after James Wilson stepped down Nov. 30. Wilson made slightly more than $65,000 a year including benefits. A shared-service agreement has yet to be finalized between Hubbard and Liberty spelling out how much Baldwin-Amorganos will be paid by Liberty.
Watson said the district also has shared transportation services with the Trumbull County Educational Services Center. Watson and Marshall both noted that the state is urging Ohio schools to share services.
“Shared services work best when functions and skills involved are similar and those activities are in concert with each other,” said Watson. “It’s something we’re continuing to look at.”
Though he believes in the merits of shared services, Watson isn’t so sure about the possibility of a levy approval in Liberty. He said residents already pay a high taxes, and the amount needed to make the district soluble would make it an uphill battle.
Whatever the commission recommends, Watson said, it will be a collaborative effort to get the district on the right path.
“There are some things we feel very strongly about, but there will certainly be compromise,” he said.
The Liberty school board will meet for a regular meeting tonight at 5 in the high school community room. A joint meeting with the fiscal commission will follow at 5:30.