The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 28, 2013

District hoping for state loan

Would pay to bring back teachers

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — To balance its money woes and educational responsibilities, Brookfield school district is hoping to borrow money from a state solvency fund to replace laid off teachers so it can meet  minimum state standards.

A staffing audit released this week by the Ohio Department of Education shows that comparable school districts have on average about seven more teachers than Brookfield.  Superintendent Tim Saxton, said that reflects the number of teachers laid off last year.

The district, facing a nearly $1 million deficit, has been working to cut spending. Brookfield officials say it means the district faces an almost certain declaration of fiscal emergency in the coming weeks even though it has already laid off teachers and eliminating some classes, particularly art, language and home economics.

The board had other options, including pay-to-play fees for athletics and extra-curricular activities, as well as eliminating busing but has not taken those steps yet.

Saxton said previously he welcomed the staffing audit, because it would make the case for recalling laid off teachers and possibly hiring  an additional teacher or two. Directors met in executive session Tuesday to discuss different scenarios and said they hoped any decisions they made to bring the staffing levels back up would be accepted by the state, and not eliminated during a state takeover.

State auditors will shortly  certify the exact amount of the debt, said Treasurer David Drawl. The debt for 2013 is about $981,000 and will grow to more than $2.1 million in two years without an infusion of money, according to information released by the district.

Directors discussed bringing back elementary school teachers, a home economics teacher and other combinations, though they did not vote on any of it. “In the end, though, you have to see where the dollars are behind that,” said director Tim Filipovich.

Saxton said a fiscal emergency declaration would qualify the district to borrow money from the state.

“But of course, it is more debt you are taking on,” Saxton said. “Of the recommendations that were made to me, if the money were free flowing, I would say absolutely, do all of it. But given our situation, we have to balance what we need for staffing versus what we can live with in debt.”

About 73 percent of the district’s $22 million budget is for salaries and while the number of students has remained steady at 1,151, state mandates require the district offer some curriculum that it currently doesn’t because there aren’t enough teachers, Saxton said.

“I’ve asked the question before and I’ll say it again ‘What do we want our district to look like?’ The heaviest cuts from last year are shown in this staffing audit,” he said.

The school’s money troubles worsened last year after voters said no to a 1-percent income tax that could have netted the district an additional $1.4 million a year.

Cuts in state funding along with a significant loss of revenue to online charter schools has left the district no choice but to go back to the taxpayers, directors said, and ask for a 4.85-mill operating levy on the May 7 ballot.

A homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 could expect to pay about another $30 a year, Saxton said, if the levy passes.

The levy committee will meet at 7 p.m. April 3 in the library to go over the district’s finances and try and raise community support, Saxton said.  Additionally, students and administrators will go door-to-door on April 27 and 28 asking for support, along with a pancake breakfast from 7 a.m to 1p.m. on April 28.

The uncertainty of the district’s finances is already causing delays that are affecting students, said Jo Taylor, high school principal. Usually by this time each  year course schedules are offered to students for the coming year.

“We have none of that done. We don’t know what or who we are going to have available. We can’t schedule kids and then not have the classes. We are in trouble,” she said.