The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

August 20, 2013

State unveils draft of school plan

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — A state-appointed oversight committee geared toward guiding Brookfield school district out of fiscal emergency presented its first draft of a recovery plan to an empty auditorium Monday afternoon.

The proposal offered little in the way of surprises for the financially battered school district, but rather presented a list of positives, including the expected revenue boosts from a newly-passed levy, along with an increase in state funding and a “cushion” of money that may come from casino revenues.

Paul Marshall, chairman of the committee, led a discussion between board members and Superintendent Tim Saxton about transportation issues involving a cost savings. Saxton told the board the district recently contracted with a different provider to transport special-needs students to programs outside the district.

The company the district used last year charged up to $80 per student, per day, spending about $147,000. The new company, Transit Services Inc., will charge $45 per student, per day. The oversight committee must give approval for any expenditures greater than $5,000.

Saxton also said he has informally been discussing the possibility of sharing transportation costs with Hubbard school district, which manages its own transportation for special-needs students.

Brookfield isn’t in a position to handle the transportation itself, Saxton said, because it doesn’t have the staff or buses available. Committee member William Nicholas asked Saxton if he was aware of a state grant that provided for buses that run on natural gas.

“A natural gas fleet is something that we can’t even attempt right now. Those grants tend to be cost intensive on the front end. We can’t pour money into something like that now to save money on the back end,” he said.

The district would like to benefit from the pending oil and gas boom, but efforts to even lease about 60 aces to energy companies fell flat, Saxton said.

“We marketed ourselves to the big companies and we expected BP was going to make an offer, but it never came,” he said.

“We did get an offer from a disreputable company and the board passed on that,” he said.

Saxton, who previously worked in the Carrollton school district, said the shale boom is big in that area of Ohio right now and colleagues there are telling him that the school itself hasn’t seen a direct impact from the boom.

“The local economy, yes, but as far as the school district itself, they aren’t reporting anything,” he said.

Another part of the recovery plan involves a performance audit of district operations, done by an independent company that may offer up ways to save money.

Marshall said the district is unusual in that it had already passed a levy and made significant cuts prior to the declaration of fiscal emergency.

“Voters ‘overwhelmingly’ passed the levy already,” he joked, referring to the passage of a 4.85-mill levy that passed by a single vote in May.

The final draft of the recovery plan is due to state officials by the end of September. The next meeting of the oversight committee has been set for 2:15 p.m. Sept. 10 in the high school auditorium.