By Jordan Cohen
Two additional school levies are on the May 7 primary ballot in the city, and the school district’s superintendent says their approval is the only way to keep the red ink from getting worse.
“We need to evolve out of deficit spending, and without these levies, we can’t do it,” said Frank Danso, Niles interim superintendent.
An emergency levy of 4.65 mills would generate $1.1 million annually to cover operating expenses.
“The uncertainty of school funding at the state level has put many schools in a very precarious situation, and we’re in deficit spending just to buy paper and other products we need,” Danso said.
The other, a 1-mill permanent improvement levy, would bring in nearly $237,000 yearly. Danso said revenue from that issue would be used to upgrade technology for students, particularly at Niles Middle School, which opened in 2003.
“The technology [there] is 10 years old, meaning it hasn’t been changed since the school opened,” the superintendent said. “Technology is changing so quickly and upgrades are needed to prepare students for the workforce.”
Niles schools have been under state fiscal watch since 2003, and the revenue projections are anything but promising, according to Linda Molinaro, district treasurer. Her five-year forecast anticipates a $2.9 million deficit by fiscal year 2016-17.
“Nothing has changed since the forecast was released last October, and we still project the same deficit,” Molinaro said. She will present another forecast to the school board by the end of May.
Last February, state Auditor Dave Yost released a performance audit of the district, which recommended the elimination of 15 positions, most of them nonteaching, that he said would save $1.3 million.
Yost said that if the deficit worsens, the district could eliminate 16 “general education teachers ... but should consider the effects of such reductions on its educational programs.”
Yost also said the district should require teachers to pay a higher percentage of the district’s health care coverage. The district’s 180 teachers and nonteaching employees increased the percentage for health care they pay in the current contracts, but not to the level the state auditor has suggested.
Danso said in a letter to the auditor that the district “will continue to address” the medical payments issue. The teachers contract expires at the end of this year.
The superintendent would not speculate on what he will recommend to the board if the levies are rejected because of the number of “variables” that will impact the budget such as retirements or resignations that may occur by the end of the current school year.
“It’s also too early because of the uncertainty of state funding,” he said, “but if the vote goes against us, we’ll reflect on what we have to do.”