District warned of fiscal emergency
By Jordan Cohen
Nearly 100 residents, teachers and other school employees packed Mathews High School cafeteria Wednesday evening to hear an Ohio Department of Education official warn about the consequences of the district’s projected deficit.
The district could be in the red by about $800,000 in two years, and failure to eliminate the deficit could lead to a declaration of fiscal emergency. That means a financial planning and supervision commission would take over school finances.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Roger Hardin, ODE assistant director of finance program services. “Fiscal emergency is downright ugly for a lot of people.”
Mathews voters are being asked to approve a five-year, 4.65-mill levy on the November ballot that would generate $680,000 annually and resolve the deficit. If the levy is defeated and deficit projections remain unchanged, Hardin warned the residents that state action is inevitable.
“Within two years, you will be in fiscal emergency because your deficit will be 30 percent of your revenue,” Hardin said.
A staffing analysis conducted by the ODE shows that Mathews has 10 teachers above state minimums for comparably sized districts. But Hardin emphasized that the figures should not be viewed as indicating the district has too many teachers.
“It does not mean they are overstaffed,” Hardin said, “but if there is a fiscal emergency, the commission will probably order [Mathews] to reduce to state minimums, and that won’t be good for the students.
“We want to help you understand what is coming down the road for your school district if things stay the same,” Hardin said.
The ODE official spoke for more than an hour about the various options the state could take before fiscal emergency is declared. The first is fiscal caution in which the district must submit a financial recovery plan. If that does not work, the state auditor could declare a fiscal watch, requiring the board of education to submit another plan that addresses all accounting and compliance issues.
“Nothing personal, but you won’t want to see me come back here again, because if I do, we’ll probably have a commission in tow,” Hardin said.
After Hardin’s presentation, board President Ken Wallace called upon the audience to work to pass the levy because of the consequences if it fails.
“No one wants to lose the opportunity to take care of this by ourselves,” Wallace said.