Hubbard mulls smaller school levy

HUBBARD — The Hubbard Exempted Village School District outlined a plan Tuesday to reduce expenses and ask voters to approve a more spartan levy than the one voted down earlier this month.

The board met for a work session Tuesday night on the heels of voters rejecting a 7.1-mill, 10-year operating levy Nov. 8. It was the first time the board went to the voters for an operating levy since 2001. If the levy passed, it would have generated $1.4 million annually.

If the board wants to put a levy request on the May primary ballot, it must give the first reading by Jan. 27.

Helping the board assess its situation were Ryan Ghizzoni, a consultant with Public Finance Resources, and local broker Alan Murray Jr.

Superintendent Raymond W. Soloman presented a three-tiered schedule toward reducing costs, with the first coming in January. More reductions would come in July and July 2018.

“We need a comprehensive plan. Once we get that, we will share it with the community,” Soloman said.

Soloman said areas to look at include reducing certified personnel, cut courses to state minimum, reduce classified personnel and overtime, and lower busing to state minimum.

Other possibilities include closing buildings, ending field trips for students, no professional travel — Soloman said that is at a minimum already — eliminate extracurricular activities, institute pay-for-play sports extracurriculars, and investigate reducing the number of administrators.

Murray gave the board options for reducing health insurance costs, including negotiating for employees to pay more of their costs. They pay 7 percent now. Spouses may be excluded and employees may opt for more bare-boned coverage.

“For every $200,000 we save, we cut off a mill (on a levy request),” Treasurer Amber Babik said.

Ghizzoni cautioned about Draconian cuts. The district will still need to buy buses, maintain buildings and purchase textbooks.

“I don’t think you can cut to save yourselves, not without significantly impacting students,” he said.

There was discussion of attempting a 4-mill levy in May, but Ghizzoni said that would mean reducing annual expenditures by $500,000 by 2021. Even then, it would quicken the need to return to the voters.

The district has been hit by deficit spending for the past several years. Ghizzoni said the deficit for this year could be $80,000 or nothing, depending on insurance and other factors. Doing nothing, next year’s deficit could hit $665,000.

During better times, the district had a big surplus, which the system has been whittling over the last several years with annual deficits.

Board member Rocky Adams expressed frustration with Columbus, specifically Gov. John Kasich.

“Everybody criticizes us but nobody calls the governor. If nobody calls the governor, he doesn’t care what happens. He’s sitting there thinking he’s done nothing wrong. He’s sitting on a billion dollars of our money,” Adams said, referring to the state’s rainy day fund.

The district has steadily made reductions over the past six years, cutting 23 staff members through attrition.

“You are in better shape than a year ago because of cuts,” Ghizzoni said. “Health care is the reason costs are up.

“You guys are definitely on the right track. I work with districts who say, ‘Oh no. What do we do now?’ You’ve attacked the problem.”

State Auditor Dave Yost cited Hubbard schools’ open enrollment policy in its special report released Monday. Hubbard earned a “noteworthy accomplishment” its its audit report, earning $1 million in fiscal year 2015 with open enrollment.