Niles school officials working on alternative plan
By Jordan Cohen
Schools Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said it is too early to say what additional personnel cuts may be needed should voters reject the 5.85-mill additional levy in May.
“We want to make sure everything is where it needs to be,” Thigpen said after Thursday’s meeting in which the board of education unanimously approved the final reading of the millage issue.
The school district needs the levy to help it emerge from state-designated fiscal caution. Fiscal caution is when the state auditor certifies a deficit between 2 percent and 8 percent of prior- year general-fund revenue.
In November, 70 percent of the voters rejected the previous levy of 9.25 mills, which would have generated $2 million. The latest submission, if approved, would bring in only $1.3 million, which is not enough to get the board out from under its fiscal woes.
Thigpen revealed during a board meeting earlier this month that the current cost-cutting plan eliminates four teachers, one administrator and two nonteaching employees, but depending on the outcome of May’s vote, there may have to be other job cuts.
That would require the so-called Plan B, which would have to be implemented in the event the levy fails.
As for terminating additional school programs to help stanch the red ink, the superintendent said she has few options available.
“We can’t cut enough programs to get out of this mess,” Thigpen said.
One source of lost revenue has been the movement of students to charter or electronic schools. Thigpen said those losses have cost the district more than $1 million, however one such facility, an electronic charter school whose enrollment included 45 students from Niles, recently closed.
“We’ve sent out letters to all 45,” the superintendent said. “We’re hoping to get them back.”
Meanwhile, district Treasurer Lori Hudzik is working with the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of School Finance to determine financial alternatives and a plan acceptable to the state.
Should the administration’s efforts and the levy fail in the May 8 primary election, the district faces a fiscal-watch declaration – the same designation it carried for 13 years before the state auditor finally declared the district financially sound in 2016.