By Jordan Cohen
Voter approval of a renewal school levy last Tuesday has staved off a state declaration of fiscal emergency for now, but the school district faces the same threat again with the start of the new fiscal year this July.
“We are still under the specter of a fiscal-emergency declaration because our current five-year plan shows a deficit of more than $2 million for fiscal year 2013, and we have to show the state we can eliminate it,” said Mark Robinson, school superintendent. Fiscal year 2013 begins July 1.
Niles schools have been under a fiscal watch since 2003.
Had the 4.65-mill levy been defeated, the Ohio Department of Education would have declared the district in fiscal emergency and placed a financial planning and supervision commission in control of the school finances for an indefinite period. Instead, the renewal passed with 57 percent of the vote, temporarily eliminating the threat and assuring $1.3 million annually for a 10-year period.
Robinson said, however, revenue from the renewal will not be enough, and cost-cutting will be necessary through such measures as attrition.
“We know there will be retirements this year, and we’re looking at not [replacing] them if we don’t have to,” the superintendent said, adding that the district also has reduced its paper and copying costs.
The major stumbling block to trimming the deficit is the unresolved contract with the 180-member Niles Education Association, the union representing teachers, librarians, guidance counselors and school nurses. The contract expired last August. The superintendent is hoping to bring the new contract more in line with that of the nonteaching employees whose union last year accepted significant concessions.
Figures provided recently by the school treasurer show that for each full-time NEA member, the district pays monthly premiums of $1,800 for family coverage and $790 monthly for single coverage. The district pays the entire premium costs for all teacher-union members hired prior to October 2008. Those hired after that date contribute $52.50 monthly for family coverage and $26.25 for single coverage.
“We continue to meet with the teachers at least once a week,” said Robinson who described the atmosphere of negotiations as “a spirit of camaraderie.”
“There’s a real strong feeling from both groups that we would love to have something done by the end of March, and that’s our target goal,” the superintendent said. He added negotiations would continue if agreement is not reached by the end of this month.
“These are tough economic times, and we can’t thank the community enough for its support,” Robinson said. “We’re going to make sure we don’t let them down.”