Niles schools waits for appointment of fiscal commission

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In its first meeting since Niles City Schools were declared in fiscal emergency, the board of education Thursday did not discuss either the declaration or its impact on district operations.

“We are just waiting for the [Financial Planning and Supervision] Commission to be appointed,” said Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen in response to a Vindicator question after the meeting. “It’s certainly a concern.”

According to state law, a commission should have been formed by now. Three of five commission members are supposed to “be appointed within 15 days after the declaration,” reads the state statute.

The commission will oversee all district spending.

Auditor of State Keith Faber placed the district in fiscal emergency Feb. 26, meaning the deadline for creating the commission was March 13. The two remaining members are appointees of the director of budget and management and the superintendent of public instruction.

“We’re still waiting,” Thigpen said.

Faber’s office referred The Vindicator to the Ohio Department of Education, which it said is responsible for the commission. Information regarding commission appointments “is not available at this time,” said Carolyn Cypret, ODE associate director of media relations. She did not address the newspaper’s question about failing to comply with the time limit.

The state law apparently contains no provisions for penalizing anyone for noncompliance with the 15-day deadline.

“There are no penalties listed in the statute,” confirmed Dominic Binkley, public information officer for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

The district is required to complete a financial-recovery plan within 120 days of the first commission meeting – a date that at this point cannot be determined until the commission is appointed.

The declaration had been expected. The district projects deficits exceeding $500,000 this school year; $1.1 million in 2020; and nearly $3 million in 2021. A 5.6-mill renewal levy that would generate $1.3 million annually is on the May primary election ballot.

During an interview earlier this month, Faber called the district’s finances “unauditable,” a description that puzzles district Treasurer Lori Hudzik.

“I don’t understand why he used that term,” Hudzik said Thursday. “We are currently being audited, and we expect it to be completed within the next few days.”

The declaration announcement came days before the city of Niles was formally released from a fiscal emergency lasting more than four years.

The city’s state-appointed fiscal supervisors – Tim Lintner and Nita Hendryx – confirmed they have been assigned the same roles for the school district.

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