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Niles schools move closer to fiscal release

NILES — The Niles City School District is almost to the end of the tunnel after being in fiscal emergency for more than two years.

The Fiscal Planning and Supervision Commission for the district voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution that requests the state auditor lift the fiscal emergency.

Last week, the Niles Board of Education also made the same request.

Tuesday’s passage is another step in the right direction for the district, Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said.

“That was a moment we had been waiting for, for two years and five months,” she said. “I turned to the treasurer and said I could hardly contain myself. It’s been a lot of work, and it’s a huge sense of relief.”

There is no set time, however, for the district to be released formally. The commission’s resolution only allows for the auditor to begin work to determine if the district can be removed from fiscal emergency, commission chairman Bob Foss said during the meeting.

Nita Hendryx, an employee for the state auditor, told the commission the auditor’s office should get a report by the end of summer — hopefully.

“We will do our best to get this done as quickly as possible,” Hendryx said in the meeting. “Our goal is to get this report done and to Columbus by the end of the summer. We can’t control once it gets down there, but our hope is that the auditor is happy with it.”

Thigpen anticipates the release will happen soon. “We are anticipating maybe another month and a half or two months,” she said.

Two years ago, the district was placed in fiscal emergency for failing to comply with a state-approved financial recovery plan. It had been placed under fiscal watch in June 2018. While under fiscal watch, the district was required to develop a plan to restore finances.

In June 2016, the district came out of a 13-year fiscal watch period that started after a $2.9 million deficit in 2003.

The latest resolution states that the district has complied and has met the objectives of the commission’s financial recovery plan. It states: “… no new fiscal emergency conditions have occurred and the district has adopted a non-adverse five-year forecast…”

One of the biggest contributing factors to the release is that five-year plan. Following the Board of Education’s approval, Foss previously said the outlook of the plan is vital.

“As they made reductions and found savings opportunities, such as new insurance and staffing changes, the district’s outlook on its five-year forecast shows the financial integrity has been restored,” Foss said.

Thigpen added that the emergency has served as a learning experience for everyone in the district and hearing the four commission members vote “yes” on the resolution is “a feel-good moment.”

“Of course no one wants to be in fiscal emergency, but working through that for two years and everything the district has learned for the good of Niles City Schools has brought us to the point of release,” Thigpen said. “That’s the feel good moment.”

She also said the district will do what it can to avoid getting to the point of fiscal emergency again.

“We don’t want to get to that point we were at two years ago,” Thigpen said.

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