Brookfield schools seek release from fiscal emergency

BROOKFIELD — The school district is seeking release from state-mandated fiscal emergency after carrying the designation for nearly five years.

On Wednesday, the Brookfield Financial Planning and Supervision Commission approved sending a request to the state auditor’s office to be released from fiscal emergency, which the district has been in since May 2013.

Nita Hendryx, local government chief project manager for the Ohio auditor, said the district’s request and its finances will be reviewed by the state auditor. Hendryx said the request was the final step needed to get an analysis done of the district’s five-year forecast to determine if it’s eligible to exit fiscal emergency. The final fiscal planning commission meeting likely will be in early March and a decision may be rendered by then.

“We are on the home stretch,” Hendryx said.

Commission Chairman David Michel credited the hard work of district administrators, the school board, employees and the community for “chipping in and doing their part to help during some difficult financial times. At times it was a struggle.”

Quentin Potter, financial commission designee with the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, said he has noted a drastic difference in the district’s finances in the past year with the implementation of a recovery plan.

“Over the last year we saw a number of steps by the district, such as refinancing of the debt and other ways to reduce expenditures. Up until this year, they needed to borrow money each year,” Potter said.

Superintendent Velina Jo Taylor said the district has had to make “tough choices” the past few years, with cuts made in programs, services and staffing.

She said while in fiscal emergency, the district was not able to move forward on any employee contracts and had to reduce classified and certified personnel and services as much as possible.

“Brookfield has been in fiscal emergency the longest of any district in the state of Ohio. It’s the record,” Taylor said.

Treasurer Craig Yaniglos said the district has been able to turn its finances around and mark the first school year it has not had to borrow money from the state.

Yaniglos said most schools are able to get out of fiscal emergency on average in three years while Brookfield went almost five years. He said at one point, the district borrowed more than $1 million from the state and was borrowing annually since 2012.

In the 2012-13 school year, the district had an approximate $1 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year even after $686,000 cuts in staff and other expenditures. Voters approved an operating levy for 4.85 mills in 2013 to help.

Yaniglos said the district has since paid the state back and has been able to keep afloat. To help save the district money, Brookfield has had shared services with other districts and has been in talks with Mathews and Liberty schools for more such opportunities such as busing, special education, cafeteria, maintenance and administration.

One recent example was Brookfield students attending Trumbull Career and Technical Center were bused to Mathews and went on buses with Mathews school students to TCTC when Brookfield was short bus drivers. Also, Brookfield uses Hubbard’s mechanic for bus maintenance and Hubbard also transports Brookfield students to St. Rose School in Girard.

Brookfield, Mathews and Liberty are seeking a grant from the state auditor to have a study done to see how the three districts can combine some services together.