Niles superintendent: Levy would only keep us afloat

By Jordan Cohen


If Niles voters approve an emergency 5.85-mill school levy May 8, the annual revenue of $1.3 million “will only keep us afloat,” Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said at a public forum Wednesday.

“We won’t be able to do anything additional,” and staffing and curriculum cuts are inevitable if voters reject it, she said.

Thigpen said the Ohio Department of Education has questioned why the millage is not higher. But, she said, “We had a 9.25-mill levy rejected by 70 percent of the voters. That’s not going to work in May.”

More than 50 people were at Niles Middle School to discuss the 10-year levy and a recent state performance audit that recommends a number of cost-cutting measures, including the elimination of 18 positions, many of them teachers. The audit found that the district would save nearly $3.4 million if its recommendations are implemented.

“The board will be voting on cuts at its next meeting [April 19],” Thigpen said. She later said those include one teaching position, two administrative positions “and a para-professional.” The savings from those cuts was not immediately available.

Thigpen spent much of the meeting explaining how the district wound up in state-declared fiscal caution. She cited a loss of more than $3 million in state funding due to declining enrollment of more than 600 students in the last 14 years and $1 million more lost from students who enrolled in charter schools.

If the levy fails, she said, the district will have no choice but to cut additional teaching and other positions; eliminate art, music and physical education in elementary schools starting in 2019; impose participation fees for students in athletics; “and any additional cuts deemed necessary.”

She had asked for questions to be submitted on index cards, and most were, but a few of those attending spoke up. One said he is an accountant and asked why the projected costs for health insurance were well below the actual amounts.

Recently appointed Treasurer Lori Hudzik replied: “The further out you get [from] five-year plans, things are not as accurate. We just found out that our health insurance rates are going up 11.5 percent in May,”

“We have to fix healthcare,” Thigpen added.

The superintendent also showed results of a survey that indicated a slight majority of respondents would vote against the levy. “We’re hoping to change that,” she said.

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