Salem schools seen in black for 4 years

SALEM — The Salem school district is doing alright financially, despite a bleaker picture in the fifth year of the latest five-year forecast, according to district Treasurer Robert Barrett.

Barrett reviewed the state-required bi-annual report with school board members Monday night, explaining that he used state budget numbers issued by the governor since the state’s new budget doesn’t come out until July 1 and is still up for debate.

He’s still predicting the next four years to end in the black, but the negative number for the fifth year in 2021 grew by quite a bit, from the negative $153,810 forecast last October to a negative $1.9 million forecast this month.

The overall property tax revenue has continued to decline and the bottom line for the forecast depends on renewal of the property tax levies. The district will continue playing conservative when it comes to spending and one way Barrett said they’ll save money next year is through a reconfiguration of operations in the treasurer’s office.

With two long-time employees retiring, he said they’re taking the opportunity to eliminate the accounts payable position and split the duties between the assistant treasurer and the superintendent’s secretary. He’s also training his replacement, Michael Douglas, to be a hands-on treasurer. Barrett is retiring, but Douglas is working alongside him for now during a transition period.

As part of the school board’s consent agenda, the salaries for staff members exempt from the union were increased to match the percentages granted to the unions representing classified staff members, The exempt staff includes the assistant treasurer and the superintendent’s secretary, who each received wage increases of 2.75 percent for the fiscal year ending in 2018, then 2.5 percent for the next year.

Barrett also cautioned that residents who think the school is getting a bunch of money from the casino tax need to realize that’s not the case. The amount Salem gets is no more than 1/3 of a mill and only totals $104,901.

In other business. Matt Freeman presented the board with an update on Quaker Tech Academy, the online school operated by the school district. Freeman suggested that the district could save money, possibly $30,000 to $40,000 per year, by partnering with the Mahoning County Educational Service Center for access to the computer program used for Quaker Tech Academy and for licensing. Through the MCESC, the licensing fee for the software is charged per student instead of in one lump sum for 500 licenses, which is what the district is going now. He said they’ll be lucky to hit 300 this year for license usage.

By joining with MCESC for the computer software, the students may benefit from more class offerings. This was the first year for Quaker Tech to use the Fuel Education programming and he said it’s harder content but there are more offerings for students and there’s more use of active visuals, making it more fun for students. The scheduling mechanism is helping them be more organized, also.

Students can take coursework strictly at home or they can do a combination of traditional school and online. The average number of students enrolled at Quaker Tech Academy is 143. Students can use the online coursework to catch up their credits, too.