Incumbents best pick for Niles schools

It has not been a good 2013 for the Niles City School District.

Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office released its finding from an audit the district requested. Niles has followed so few of the audit’s recommendations that the auditor’s office is predicting a $2.9 million deficit by the 2016-17 school year if drastic actions are not taken.

According to the state office, ”NCSD did not complete mandatory transportation reports consistently with the Ohio Department of Education instructions for counting the number of students riding buses … . Without documentation and clear lines of responsibility the district risks accountability and funding issues.”

And, according to the state office, ”The district has not developed capital improvement plans … . The district has a voter-approved funding stream of .05 mills designated for maintenance and upkeep of the OSFC buildings. As such, the spending power of those funds would likely be maximized if used in accordance with a formal capital plan.”

Prior to news about the state audit, news surfaced that a bus driver who abandoned a sleeping student was hired by the district despite multiple, serious traffic violations. The violations included multiple speeding convictions and citations for improper signaling, failing to control, operating an unsafe vehicle, passing in violation of a posted sign or pavement marking and violation of a traffic control device or sign.

Then interim Niles School Superintendent Frank Danso tried to keep secret the name of the driver who abandoned the student. It turned out none of the traffic violations were in his Niles schools personnel file.

Before that, the superintendent, speaking on behalf of the school board during a levy endorsement interview, did not know if employees had received raises in the last contract, did not know how much the system pays in health care or what health care benefits the employees receive, and did not know how much levy approval would cost individual property owners.

With all that, and more, happening this year it’s no wonder 70 percent of voters rejected two school levies. In a way, voters were making a statement about the school board, including incumbents Tony Perrone and Lori Vlosich Hudzik whose seats are up in the November General Election.

Unfortunately, the challengers – Bobby Seifert, Mary Ann McMahon and Jacqueline S. Latronica-Matig – don’t offer clearly better alternatives.

We appreciate Seifert’s willingness to follow the auditor’s recommendations and his recognition that health care benefits for employees are out of touch with reality. But after criticizing others for running because of their personal connections – children in the district, past or present employment in the district, relatives’ employment in the district, etc. – he then pointed out how Niles needs to change a majorette policy in light of his own daughter’s personal situation.

We appreciate McMahon’s concern that Niles adopt an updated security plan and retrain employees in light of moving into new buildings. However, Niles police have already provided some up-to-date training and likely will continue. And while McMahon has expertise in academics, Niles is desperate for board members with expertise in finance and management.

We appreciate that Latronica-Matig is running ”for the children,” and to restore the district’s ”sense of unity,” but voters need to make their decisions on specific ideas and plans.

So we endorse Perrone and Hudzik.

Perrone is completing his first term. Niles has had some positive developments during that time. Students are in new buildings and the athletic complex has artificial turf at no cost to taxpayers.

Hudzik is only in her first year after being appointed to replace Eric Lanham, who resigned in March. She can hardly be held accountable for the 2013 blunders. Her stated desire to improve finances, especially the spending side, is encouraging.

Hopefully the learning curve is over for incumbents. Vacant property, such as the former Washington and Mount Carmel school sites, presents some opportunities. The excitement and pride of new schools hopefully give the incumbents some momentum to build on.