Brookfield schools unsure of fiscal future
By danny restivo
The state auditor’s office said the district will face fiscal emergency even if a school levy is certified as passed.
Residents approved a 4.85-mill school levy during last week’s election. According to the Trumbull County Board of Elections, the levy passed by three votes, according to unofficial results; 1,855 residents cast ballots. The board said there seven absentee ballots and 10 provisional ballots still must be counted. The board of elections will meet May 28 to certify the vote and if the margin of defeat or victory falls within nine votes, there will be an automatic recount.
If approved, the levy would generate $606,000 annually, almost $500,000 short of the district’s $1,018,000 deficit forecast for the end of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
On Tuesday, Auditor of State Dave Yost declared the school district in a state of fiscal emergency.
The district was placed in fiscal caution in 2005, followed by fiscal watch in 2006. Ohio law states that any “district forecasting a deficit exceeding 15 percent of the school district’s general fund revenue for the preceding year will be placed in fiscal emergency.”
In February, the district passed a resolution that stated its inability to adopt a recovery plan that would eliminate the deficit.
Tim Saxton, Brookfield school superintendent, said board members approved the 4.85-mill levy for the ballot with an additional $300,000 in state funding in mind. He said the state’s cut to public school funding changed that forecast.
Saxton said the chances of getting a levy passed that was any higher than five mills was small, and last week’s election proved it.
“We knew what we needed to gain and what we could gain,” said Saxton, who thought the district might escape fiscal emergency if the levy had passed decisively. “We knew if we want seven, eight or nine mills we wouldn’t stand a chance [of getting it passed by voters].”
In November, voters rejected a 1 percent, five-year income tax that would have generated $1.4 million annually. Saxton said the district hasn’t passed a levy in almost 20 years. The district cut $600,000 from its budget last year, including six teaching positions, changed certain full-time positions to part-time and eliminated electives, such as art, music and home economics. Saxton said if the new levy is approved, the district will use the additional funding to pay off the deficit and hire back some teachers that were eliminated the year before.
“Whether the levy is passed or not the board is going to have to make some difficult decisions,” said Saxton.
Paul Marshall is chairman of the state-appointed financial planning and supervision commission for Liberty School district, which was placed in fiscal emergency in 2011. Marshall said he spoke with Saxton and Brookfield board of education members about the district’s fiscal issues.
Marshall said, “If the levy stands, it will surely mitigate some of the cuts [the board] will make.” Marshall said the process of working with the school is a collaborative effort. He said the commission does not make financial decisions, only recommendations.