Audit reflects possible savings for West Branch

BELOIT — A recent performance audit of the West Branch Local School District showed a possible annual savings of over $2.1 million.

Schools Superintendent Tim Saxton said he requested the performance audit upon taking charge of the district earlier this year. He said he noticed some distinct expenditures while reviewing the budget, particularly in staffing, and wanted the district’s budget compared to other similar districts.

Performed by Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office, the audit compares West Branch to those of similar size and financial status across the state. Since the district is projected at an operating deficit within its five-year financial forecast, the audit was conducted at no cost to the district.

If all recommendations from the audit are followed, the district could save $2.2 million annually, bringing a $43,000 deficit in 2018-2019 to $3.25 million cash balance, a $5.7 million deficit in 2020-2021 to a $1.95 million surplus.

According to the audit, recommendations include a reduce of General Fund subsidies for extracurricular activities, renegotiating collective bargaining agreement provisions, developing a formal preventive maintenance plan, right-sizing the active bus fleet by eliminating six buses and developing a bus replacement plan, none of which have an total estimated cost savings.

The audit also suggests eliminating a number of positions including four-and-a-half administrator, five general education, three and half ESP teacher, two library, two and half counselor, two nursing, four and half psychologist and therapist, two career technical, 20 and half teaching aides and one technology staff.

Yost’s office did note, however, that the West Branch administration best knows its needs and should make changes that best serve the district as the administrators and school board see it.

So far, the district has reduced staff by 10 teacher aides and one nursing positions. There has also been two bus driver positions eliminated by attrition. Saxton also said the district is looking at its bus replacement and maintenance plans and will be entering negotiations with both the certified and classified unions in January. The administration is also finalizing the district’s strategic plan.

“If we don’t act now, we’re going to put ourselves deeper in the hole,” Saxton said, who served as superintendent at Brookfield while that district was in fiscal emergency. “We have to make the necessary changes now. Making cuts in staff is unfortunately necessary.”

Saxton noted that staffing makes up approximately 80 percent of the district’s expenditures, and the district needs to maximize current taxpayers’ money in the most efficient way possible while keeping staff as student friendly as possible.

The audit team worked with Saxton, Treasurer David Drawl and other members of the administrative team to collect and study district data. The study included staffing, operational and financial data.

“It is important to note that the district was proactive in requesting this audit,” Saxton said. “The idea here is to avoid a financial crisis in the future. We want to study these recommendations carefully and act accordingly.”

The West Branch Local School District is flat funded in the state budget, meaning in the next two years there is no increase or decrease in state revenue. Saxton said he thinks sometime in the future that will change and the district will see a significant financial loss in state aid.

“We were slated to lose $500,000 this year, and that changed in June. I am not confident that we will be so fortunate next time. We must protect our own bottom line,” he said.

A full text of the audit can be viewed by visiting the Ohio State Auditor’s website at http://www.auditor.state.oh.us/and the West Branch Local School District website at http://www.westbranch.k12.oh.us/.

khowell@salemnews.net

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