The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 30, 2013

School board restores some staff for fall

BROOKFIELD — Gearing up for the start of school in four weeks, Brookfield school directors Monday night called back some of the staff that had been furloughed when money got tight last year.

The personnel recalls were possible because the recent state declaration of a fiscal emergency allowed the district to borrow a million dollars, interest-free, to keep things running while the finances are worked out.

In May, as the district was planning its 2013-14 fiscal year, it was more than a million dollars in debt, unsure if its proposed levy would pass and uncertain about how much funding the state would provide. State auditors had been watching the district since 2006, keeping an eye on dwindling incomes and increasing expenses, and without a clear plan to get out of debt, auditors declared the district a fiscal emergency.

The levy, which passed by a single vote, will bring the district another $600,000 a year and within the last two weeks the treasurer and superintendent learned that state funding will take a nice bump, providing more than  $1.1 million over the next two years. But, cautioned Superintendent Tim Saxton, while both of those are “wonderful” for the district, the money is needed now, long before it actually starts to roll in.

Brookfield Township resident Edward Brenner asked school directors to explain exactly what the fiscal emergency meant, and asked how long they expected it to last.

Board president Kelly Bianco told Brenner the deficit came about largely because of cuts in state funding in previous years. “We knew we were looking at deficits every year. We wanted to count on the levy but we didn’t know if it would pass. We needed access to that interest-free state money,” she said.

The financial oversight committee was not brought in to run the district, she said, but rather to identify ways the district can save money and operate more efficiently. No one from that committee attended Monday’s meeting.

Saxton added that the district made cuts last year and “at my recommendation, the board agreed not to put any other cuts in place. We already cut too much,” he said.

“This process could last one, five or 10 years. It all depends on how quickly we can recover,” Saxton said.

Treasurer David Drawl will provide an updated five-year forecast at the Aug. 21 meeting, he said, and the levy money and increase in state funding will be reflected, he said.

Director Ron Brennan said he’d like to see fiscal emergency declarations “all over the place,” in hopes that it would get the attention of the Ohio governor and representatives.

“Until they see how many districts have been forced into this, it won’t raise a red flag. Even the oversight board said they couldn’t believe how far ahead we were compared to other districts. But we have to tell the governor that this hits locally too hard. It puts too much burden on the public and too much pressure on the teachers and the administration.”

Director Rhonda Bonekovic told Brenner part of the blame goes to charter schools, which get a disproportionate amount of money, while not being held to the same educational standards as public schools.

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