By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
The narrow passage of a levy and an unexpected “bump” in state funding has left those charged with overseeing Brookfield Local School District’s financial recovery with some good news, according to Paul Marshall, chairman of the state-appointed financial planning and supervision commission.
No recovery plan has yet been written, but with the annual $600,000 from the levy and $1.1 million in the next two years from state coffers, the district will likely be “out of the red and back in the black” in about two years, Marshall said.
The district was projecting upwards of a $2 million deficit by 2016 without additional funding or reduced expenses.
A May declaration of a fiscal emergency allowed the state Department of Education to set up the five-member commission whose goal is to reduce costs to the point where the district is not operating in a deficit. Local school directors, administrators and the newly appointed commission are to work collaboratively on ways to further trim costs, said Superintendent Tim Saxton, who sat quietly in the audience during Wednesday’s meeting.
The commission will meet again at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 19 in the high school auditorium and Marshall hopes to discuss specifics about the recovery plan then, and vote on the plan’s approval in September. It has to be sent to the state by Sept. 28, he said.
One recent change in state law requires that all districts in fiscal emergency first look at sharing services with neighboring districts, Marshall said.
“That’s a big concept. There are some that, for example, share a treasurer or they pool their transportation, or maybe share insurance companies. Some make purchases together. It’s something we’re going to at least need to look at. What we are really looking at is ways to improve efficiency,” Marshall said.
Though it joins five other districts across the state that are in fiscal emergency, Marshall said it’s important to note that Brookfield is not as bad off as others. The district had already made reductions in both staff and curriculum in 2012 and Marshall said there wasn’t much left the district could trim. “They weren’t really spending a lot per pupil before. They had a pretty small base to start with compared to some districts. They didn’t have many opportunities to make further reductions,” Marshall said.
Brookfield is the second district in Trumbull County to be declared in fiscal emergency. Neighboring Liberty received its declaration in July 2011. In the last 13 years, 32 Ohio districts have come out of fiscal emergency, according to the state’s statistics.
Brookfield’s emergency declaration allowed the district to receive a little better than $1 million in an advance from the state, which allows the district to keep operating while its finances are sorted out. That advance will be paid back, without interest, to the state within two years, said David Drawl, the district’s treasurer.
The commission has the final authority over all expenses in the district, according to Saxton. “I report to the local school directors. The commission will review and approve, or not, the decisions they make. Essentially now I have two bosses,” Saxton said.
Saxton said after the meeting he was pleased with the additional state revenues for 2013-14, particularly since he went to Columbus to testify before the Legislature about the previous decline in state funding.
“I felt that they listened. I told them the cuts we took just hurt too much,” Saxton said.
Marshall said forecasts show the district will be out of a deficit in 2016, once the solvency advance is paid back.
“The district still has to exercise fiscal restraint. They’re still not rolling in dough. Things will be tight for a while,” he added.
The commission members are: Paul Marshall, a former financial planning commission administrator for the Ohio office of Budget and Management; local resident and electrical contractor Christopher J. O’Brien; William Nicholas, local businessman; Sharon Hanrahan, the assistant deputy finance director at the Ohio Attorney General’s office; and local resident Jill Benner.