Public input sought on future of Poland schools
IF YOU GO
What: Poland Local School District community forum to discuss auditor's recommendations
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Poland Seminary High School auditorium
Community forum set for 7 p.m. Monday
By Jordyn Grzelewski
After receiving a performance audit of the district from the state auditor’s office, the school board wants the public’s input on a plan for the district’s future.
At a special meeting Monday, district officials discussed the performance audit, released last week, which recommends a number of steps to avoid a projected $4.8 million deficit in fiscal year 2022.
The recommendations include closing two schools – Dobbins and Union – and cutting the equivalent of 18.5 full-time staff positions. If all 15 of the auditor’s recommendations were adopted, the audit estimates a cost savings of $1.6 million.
The board has scheduled a community forum for 7 p.m. Monday at the high-school auditorium, after a board work session at 6 p.m.
The forum’s purpose is to review the audit and answer questions. Each participant will be limited to two minutes of speaking time. Participants are asked to read the audit on the state auditor’s website and bring a copy to the forum.
At Monday’s meeting, district leaders spelled out some of the actions that could be taken to stave off a deficit.
The district could ask for additional levy money; adopt all the auditor’s recommendations; open the district’s enrollment to students from other districts; ignore the auditor’s report and continue with efforts that already are underway to reduce costs; or adopt some combination of several of these ideas.
Superintendent David Janofa noted many of the auditor’s suggestions are things the district has done over the last several years.
“The board has done all of those and more,” he said. “This report basically states, ‘You’re not done yet.’”
He noted, too, the audit considered the district’s situation from a purely financial standpoint. It did not, for example, take into consideration building configurations or conditions when recommending closing Dobbins and Union.
The auditor’s recommendation is to move kindergarten through third-grade students to McKinley, and to house fourth- through eighth-grade at Poland Middle School, for an estimated savings of $1,026,700.
That recommendation is based in part on the fact that McKinley and the middle school are only 41.6 percent and 38 percent occupied, respectively.
“Another option is to fill them with students from other districts – open enrollment,” Janofa said. “Do you really want that for the culture and history of the district? That’s a decision for the board to make.”
“I think that’s a decision the board has to make with input from the community,” said board member Dr. Larry Dinopoulos.
Asked about the time frame needed to close buildings if the board decides to do so, Janofa said it would likely be possible to close one by the start of the 2018-19 school year, but probably not both. He said the board should make that decision by mid-April so there is time to prepare.
The audit was conducted after a five-year forecast projected the district would have a deficit of more than $4.8 million in fiscal year 2022.
The report noted improvements made between the district’s May 2017 five-year financial forecast and the one it submitted to the state in October.
While the May forecast projected a $1.07 million deficit for fiscal year 2018-19, the October forecast had improved to show a $2.5 million surplus for 2018-19. The audit attributed the improvements to the replacement of two principals, reduction in staff through attrition, and an anticipated cut in state funding that did not end up happening.
Although district officials still have some tough decisions to make, Janofa said he does see a “light at the end of the tunnel,” noting some of the financial improvements that have been made over the last few years. “We’re getting closer,” he said.