Forum panelists call Mahoning County schools models of efficiency for US

Ryan Ghizzoni, left, national senior manager of business analytics with Frontline Education, discusses school funding at a forum Wednesday at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio in Canfield. Don Mook, superintendent of the Columbiana school district and another forum participant, listens. Staff photo / David Skolnick

CANFIELD — In response to Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham’s call for systemic changes to the county’s school districts, those at an education funding forum said the districts are operating efficiently.

“It’s a lot more sustainable than we give ourselves credit for,” Blaise Karlovic, treasurer in the Austintown and Lowellville school districts, said at Wednesday’s forum at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio in Canfield.

He added: “What other school districts across the United States go through, we’ve got a pretty good thing going here, and I think we need to tout that. We need to be a national benchmark instead of pointing things out about sustainability. … We can’t be our own worst enemy and we have to start blowing our own horn. What we do in Mahoning County, they should start to mimic that not only statewide, but nationwide as well.”

The forum took place to respond to Meacham’s statements in a Sept. 10 article in The Vindicator that showed, based on a state report, 10 of the county’s 14 school districts lost enrollment and all but one saw a double-digit increase in cost per student over the past four reported years between 2019 and 2022.

Meacham said districts need to look at consolidation and being more sustainable.

The ESC, which represents the 14 districts in Mahoning as well as four in Columbiana County, “saw the article as not only an opportunity, but also as a responsibility to share data that supports public education and highlights the fiduciary responsibility of our region’s educational leaders,” Traci Hostetler, ESC superintendent, said.

Statistics provided at the forum show the local operating costs per pupil of the ESC’s 18 districts is around $11,500, about $200 less than the state average.

Also, the increase in local operating costs per pupil between 2019 and 2022 is around 8% in the ESC’s districts compared with about 10% statewide with national inflation during that time around 15%.

The data also showed overall cost per pupil in the ESC districts is around $14,300, about $100 higher than the state average.

A significant influx of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to help with various expenses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increases in cost per pupil, according to the forum’s panelists: Karlovic; Don Mook, superintendent of the Columbiana school district; and Ryan Ghizzoni, national senior manager of business analytics with Frontline Education and a former treasurer at several Ohio school districts.

Youngstown City School District spent more than $7,000 per student in ESSER funding last year, Ghizzoni said.

“ESSER funds were one-time dollars, and it’s going to artificially inflate district’s revenues and expenditures,” Mook said.

By the end of 2024, those federal funds have to be spent, which will reduce the cost per pupil after that, Karlovic said.

Also, districts are sharing resources such as treasurers, special education directors and athletic directors to keep costs down, Karlovic said.

Meacham was invited either to attend the forum or to send a representative. He said he declined because he asked for an agenda beforehand so he could prepare for the forum and one wasn’t provided.

Meacham said some of the school districts with low enrollments should be looking at regionalization.

Regarding consolidation, Ghizzoni said that is a “local choice.”



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