By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
With the 2013-14 budget adopted Thursday, Hermitage School Board has cut 31 1/2 positions in the past four years, the cuts coming from teaching, support, administrative and extracurricular staffs.
“Those positions are missed,” said Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell. “We’ve been able to maintain our programming at this point.”
However, parent Tammy Meyerowich thinks the board is cutting things too close to the bone, and school board member Paul H. Paoletta agreed.
Meyerowich, the mother of an elementary school student with Type 1 diabetes, protested the plan to cut two health technician positions, which brings the district down to two school nurses and one health technician. A health technician is a nurse who has not been certified as a school nurse.
Meyerowich’s son has daily contact with the school nurse or health tech for blood sugar and insulin checks and insulin dosing.
“His growth has been directly affected by his nurses,” she said.
Referring to Type 1 diabetes, asthma and other conditions school health-care providers deal with every day, “The potential for life-threatening issues exists on a daily basis,” Meyerowich said.
Bell said the state recommends that a school district have one nurse for every 1,500 students. Even with the cuts, Hermitage would have three for 2,100 students.
Officials said some students with more severe needs have personal care aides in school with them, and the school calls in substitutes for high-need times.
Paoletta said his wife is a nurse and he knows how staffing cuts have affected hospital care. The number of students with health issues seems to go up every year, he said.
“I think we should be concerned about putting a price on a child’s health just to save a few bucks,” Paoletta said.
Bell responded, “I don’t want you to think the administration took this issue lightly. I agree with your statement that there is nothing more important than student well-being.”
In addition to the health techs, the budget cuts a technology teacher, a special education teacher and an alternative education aide, reduces the transportation coordinator position to half time, and snips the days an Artman Elementary School secretary works from 220 to 180.
Even with those cuts and others spread through the budget, real estate taxes are going up from 59 mills to 60.239.
A mill is $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value; assessments are a property’s 1970 market value. A property assessed at $100,000 would see its property tax bill climb from $5,900 a year to $6,024.
Paoletta and Robert Mancino also cited the tax-incremental financing plan approved for Levey & Co. of Akron, the company building a retail development anchored by a Kohl’s department store at South Hermitage Road and the Shenango Valley Freeway.
As part of the plan, the school board and city and county commissioners agreed to allow the diversion of 69 percent of new property taxes generated by the development to go to pay off a loan taken out to finance road and other public improvements at the site.
Mancino said he could not justify giving a tax break and then raising taxes.
Unlike Mancino, Paoletta voted to approve the TIF, but he has come to regret his support.
“We got shoved into something we should never have accepted,” he said.
Board treasurer Robert McGowan, who recommended the board approve the budget and the tax hike, said he viewed the TIF as an economic development issue, and called it separate from budget discussions.
McGowan said the board was looking at raising taxes for the first time since 2007-08 because state funding has not kept up with need, while retirement and health-care costs have jumped.
“I’m the first one against taxes, “he said. “We’re in a position where we have to do it.”
He added that student enrollment has held steady the last four years.
“I don’t want to cut anymore for our kids,” McGowan said.
Bell said the district is “at the doorstep” of having to consider cutting programs and bumping up class sizes.
“We can’t cut our way out of this,” he said of the funding trends for school districts statewide.
The $28,386,905 spending plan is up 3 percent over this year’s budget. Since the tentative budget was approved a month ago, officials cut $57,490, the savings meaning that much less will come from the district’s fund balance, a rainy day savings account.