Voters are weary; find ways to cut

What good is a five-year fiscal plan if no one in a school district is able to use it to forecast a looming shortfall that can put a district back in fiscal emergency within three years of being declared fiscally sound?

Niles voters rightfully are growing weary of bailing out its local government and board of education. It’s time for the board of education and district leaders to find ways to cut spending.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber returned the district to fiscal emergency last month, less than three years after the state released it from fiscal watch in June 2016, when it finally was able to project positive, unencumbered balances through 2020.

But within months, in September 2016, the district handed out raises to all Niles City Schools employees. Contracts with the unions representing teachers and other staff — such as bus mechanics, bus aides, cafeteria and custodial personnel, administrative assistants and educational assistants — took effect in September 2016 and extended through this August.

The latest declaration of fiscal emergency from Faber means the district once again will fall under the oversight of a financial planning and supervision commission. Within 120 days of its first meeting, the district must develop a plan to eliminate fiscal emergency conditions, with the state auditor serving as the “financial supervisor” of the commission.

The fiscal emergency designation came because of multimillion-dollar budget deficits projected for coming years and the district’s failure to submit a plan to the Ohio Department of Education to eliminate the deficits.

It comes after the brief respite from 13 years under state-designated fiscal watch status — yes, 13 years.

And that declaration came a few months after flags should have gone up when the district was returned to “fiscal caution” in September 2017.

Now, just about a year ago the Ohio auditor completed a performance audit of the district that indicated there were ways to cut spending. The report focused on things like staffing, reduction in insurance costs and even looked at expenses in areas like cafeteria kitchen operations.

Look, voters already have said no during the last three election cycles to emergency operating levies of 9.25 mills, 5.85 mills and even an attempt at a substitution levy, something new to Trumbull County.

It’s time the district realize the public is not apt to pass a tax increase any time soon.

Leaders at Niles City Schools, like all forms of government, must realize they have a responsibility to operate efficiently. The old adage “this is the way we’ve always done it” simply cannot apply anymore.

COMMENTS