UPDATE | Niles schools could save $3.4 million annually, audit reveals


Staff report

NILES

The Niles City School District could save almost $3.4 million annually and avoid a projected 2022 deficit of nearly $11.6 million by adopting the recommendations of a performance audit released today by Auditor of State Dave Yost.

Recommendations for the Trumbull County school district include reducing staff and trimming employer costs of health and vision insurance to peer averages, renegotiating collective bargaining agreement provisions and reducing labor costs for food service.

The district was declared to be in a state of fiscal caution in September because of projected deficits.

“With the district projected to incur serious shortfalls, equally serious corrective actions are called for,” Yost said. “The decisions about how to proceed are in the hands of district residents and their elected leaders, but this audit offers them options.”

The largest savings – a little more than $2 million – could result from reducing the employer cost of health and vision insurance to the average for other self-insured entities in Trumbull County.

Another $1.3 million could be saved by eliminating the equivalent of 18.5 full-time positions, including teachers and other educational staff, nursing and psychologist staff, and clerical help.

Renegotiating a variety of collective bargaining agreement provisions could save $62,200, and cutting 9.5 hours of labor per day in food service would reduce expenses by $44,500.

This month, the district will bring together a district insurance committee consisting of OAPSE and NEA officials, along with the district’s administration to evaluate healthcare options available to the district and its employees.

“The Niles City School Board of Education and the district’s leadership team are currently reviewing all of the suggestions to determine the best course of action to ensure the financial viability of the Niles City School District.  Prior to making any additional decisions, we will thoroughly evaluate the impact reductions could have on students and services,” said schools Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen.

The public is invited to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the performance audit and the upcoming levy on Thursday, April 12, at the Niles Middle School cafetorium at 6:30 p.m. The Niles Board of Education will also discuss the findings of the performance audit at its regularly scheduled board meeting on April 19.  

The audit also recommends that the district look for ways to reduce its electricity costs, which are almost 61 percent higher than the average of peer school districts.

In addition, the audit advised the district to:

Develop long-term financial and strategic plans, including a capital improvement plan, to better guide decision making.

Improve communication with the public by making better use of its website to disseminate detailed financial data and district news.

Ensure that all staff employment information is reported in accordance with the education management information system (EMIS) of the Ohio Department of Education.

Create policies to ensure that transportation data submitted to the Ohio Department of Education is accurate and complete.

Enact a data-driven bus replacement plan to reduce overall operating costs and to avoid having to replace a major part of the fleet simultaneously.

Design a system to track bus maintenance to reduce maintenance and repair costs and guide bus-replacement decisions.

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