Adopt audit’s suggestions now in Niles

The Ohio auditor says there are ways to balance Niles School District’s budget that do not involve raising taxes.

In fact, Ohio Auditor David Yost’s performance audit of the struggling school district that was released last week indicates that Niles City Schools could save nearly $3.4 million annually and avoid a deficit that nears $12 million by 2022 if officials adopt the recommendations detailed in the document.

Yost’s office analyzed things like staffing and benefits’ costs, and determined that more than 18 positions could be eliminated among the district’s three buildings, and health and vision insurance rates far exceed comparable districts. Combined, cuts in these two areas could amount to $3.3 million in savings, he said.

But the auditor’s office didn’t stop there. It also analyzed things like meals per labor hour prepared by the kitchen staff, which exceed industry accepted standards, and utility costs, which exceed those in peer districts by more than 60 percent.

School leaders, so far, have said they are reviewing the report, but have reserved further comment.

In the May 8 primary election, Niles school district voters will be casting ballots on a 5.85-mill, 10-year emergency operating levy. In November, these voters handily defeated an attempt at a 9.25-mill levy by a nearly 70-30 percent split. That should have sent a message that the taxpayers would prefer the school district find different options to balance the budget.

This audit spells out those options.

School officials must be open-minded and immediately take the approach of not “if” they will implement the recommendations, but “how” and “how soon.”

And these steps should come regardless of the May 8 levy’s outcome.

All forms of government must realize it is their responsibility to operate efficiently. The old adage “this is the way we’ve always done it” simply cannot apply anymore.