By danny restivo
State officials are hoping contract negotiations with the Liberty teachers union will save the school district “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Paul Marshall, chairman of the school’s state-appointed fiscal oversight commission, said he’s optimistic teachers and district officials will negotiate a fiscally sound contract by next school year.
The previous contract expired in 2009, but the district still is following its wage scales. In 2012, the district paid $6.9 million in salaries and wages for personnel services, compared with $7.3 million in 2011. Liberty is forecast to pay $6.4 million in 2013.
The district had 105 teaching and 68 nonteaching personnel in 2012.
Superintendent Stan Watson said he also was optimistic about contract negotiations. He couldn’t comment specifically on the negotiations, but he did say health insurance has been a main topic.
Under the current contract, the district is self- insured and must have $2.3 million allocated for liability. Watson said that doesn’t mean all the funding will be used, but it has to budgeted nonetheless.
He said a new policy, pending teacher approval, could change that.
“As a general statement, when you change the parameters of health care, you’re hoping to save money,” said Watson.
The school will have to make future cuts whether a contract is approved or not, but Marshall said starting with insurance would make other reductions “less painful.” He didn’t give a specific savings figure for changing health care policies, but he said it could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if a there were a change.
Marshall said the school could save money if employees joined a health insurance consortium instead of staying self- insured.
Marshall conveyed his recommendations to district officials during a Wednesday oversight meeting at W.S. Guy Middle School. However, he said the commission’s role didn’t include participating in contract negotiations.
“I’m confident that this district will make the right decision,” said Marshall.
Watson said a new state- mandated teacher and principal evaluation system is also a negotiation topic. He said the new evaluation system means teachers and administrators must be trained in evaluating other educators. Watson said that means more funding and personnel for training and training sessions.
“It’s an issue that takes discussion and collaboration to solve it,” said Watson.
Though the district is hoping to have a contract negotiated by the end of the school year, there has been progress towards solvency since it was placed in fiscal emergency in June 2011.
A projected deficit of $10 million has been reduced to $2.6 million and the school is paying back half of a $1.8 million loan without borrowing any money.
The school is cutting personal expenditures by $500,000 in 2013. The district is also eliminating 141/2 teaching positions, switching certain employees from full to part-time, not replacing positions vacated by retirements or replacing them with lower-paid teachers.
“Things are definitely looking better than they used to,” said Marshall.
The school has gone through four treasurers in a three-year period, as well as four different oversight committee chairman. The Trumbull County Educational Service Center is currently the operating treasurer for the school.
The next fiscal commission meeting is scheduled for June 12.