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Leave for Niles schools treasurer rejected

By ALLIE VUGRINCIC

Staff writer

NILES — A commission overseeing the Niles City School District since it was placed in state-mandated fiscal emergency in February did not approve an unpaid leave for district treasurer Lori Hudzik — and also told the school board to ensure treasurer services are provided.

All four present financial planning and supervision commission members voted against approving Hudzik’s leave, which was approved through Nov. 18 by the school board during its October meeting. Commission member Barb Mattei-Smith was absent.

Hudzik was placed on an “unrequested leave of absence” in July after the commission expressed dissatisfaction with the district’s bookkeeping. Hudzik was using sick time and then family medical leave until around Oct. 8, when it ran out.

School board members at the commission meeting Thursday were unsure what the lack of approval meant for Hudzik or her position, as it puts the district in what appears to be a legal conundrum. Board president Mary Ann McMahon said the board was acting according to legal counsel and by the Ohio Revised Code when it granted Hudzik’s request.

The Ohio Revised Code states, “A board of education may grant a leave of absence for a period of not more than two consecutive school years for educational, professional, or other purposes, and shall grant such leave where illness or other disability is the reason for the request.”

McMahon said the district would have to consult with its attorney on how to proceed. Legal counsel present at the meeting declined to comment.

The commission also directed the board to “ensure that treasurer services are provided on an uninterrupted status” and authorized the district to contract for a treasurer on an “as needed basis” at a rate not to exceed the daily rate specified in the contract with Hudzik — who was set to make $75,000 annually, according to previous Tribune Chronicle reports.

Lori Simione, treasurer for the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, has been acting as treasurer pro tempore as needed at $300 per day while Hudzik has been on leave — but the board recently received a letter from the TCESC telling it that Simione’s services will be discontinued Nov. 15.

“Basically, we are establishing that urgent action is needed to make sure the treasurer service is uninterrupted,” said Bob Foss, commission president.

Last week the board moved to search for an “interim” treasurer in anticipation of Simione leaving, but the commission’s mandate seemed to further muddle already muddy waters.

“We thought we were looking for an interim treasurer,” said McMahon. Now, the board isn’t sure. “We understood that [the commission] didn’t approve [Hudzik’s] leave, but then they told us to find a treasurer,” said McMahon.

McMahon said Simione came to the district during a difficult situation but did good work.

Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen and Foss thanked Simione for her service to the district and the effort she put in to getting the books in order and establishing good practices.

“We really appreciated the services the Trumbull County ESC has provided,” said Foss. “It was never meant to be a long-term solution.”

In other business, the commision:

∫ Approved insurance agreements for the buildings. The board last week accepted a bid of $75,183 from The Griffith Agency / Liberty Mutual, for property, automobile and liability insurance, effective Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2020. The policy is a $1,400 savings compared to last year, according to board documents;

∫ Tabled medical insurance contracts. The board last week approved a renewal of the district’s employee health care, not to exceed $6,183,849, the district’s employee dental plan with Aetna with claims estimated around $156,368, effective January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and the district’s employee vision plan with EyeMed, claims estimated in the amount of $38,975, effective Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020;

avugrincic@tritboday.com

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