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East Palestine schools hold public meeting on financial problems

EAST PALESTINE — The local school district has some hard decisions to make to satisfy the state in response to a nearly $4.5 million deficit projected in the five-year forecast.

A community-wide meeting was held by the school district on Thursday evening to inform the public of the district’s financial health, and what options are available to bring it out of the hole.

Those options include cutting staff and reducing services and/or seeking a tax levy this November to generate funds.

“Of the 610 school districts in the state of Ohio there are many that are sitting in this position, it is not just us,” Superintendent Chris Neifer said. “State funding in the schools in the state of Ohio is a mess. There is a lot of stuff in legislation that is hopefully going to help us, but it is not going to help us today.”

The district’s significant deficit projected by the 2022-23 school year prompted the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Ohio Auditor of State’s office to visit with district officials to discuss the situation, he added.

He said the school board developed and submitted a plan to the ODE earlier this year and the ODE was satisfied with the plan enough that it did not place the district in a fiscal designation.

The ODE can declare a school district to be in fiscal caution, fiscal watch or fiscal emergency if its finances are not healthy.

Neifer said the ODE is going to revisit the matter in November,

He also said that the state auditor’s office has advised that in order to be financially healthy the district needs to find roughly $1.1 million to get it through the next school year.

The auditor’s office made recommendations on how the district can pare down the deficit.

Those recommendations were discussed by the district and divided into two separate plans, which Neifer unveiled that evening.

The first plan includes eliminating two bus routes and associated resources, selling three older buses, absorbing five staff positions, renegotiating collective bargaining agreements, renegotiating service contracts and placing a levy on the November election ballot.

Neifer said the district already has the staff positions taken care of through the retirement of four people and one resignation.

“This year it looks like we are not going to RIF any positions,” he said, referring to a reduction in force.

The other plan does not include seeking a levy, but does include the reduction of an additional five or six staff members, eliminating all but two bus routes, and eliminating general fund support of extracurriculars, or pay to play.

Should the district seek a levy, it would be either be a 5-mill emergency tax levy, a .5 percent income tax levy or a .5 percent earned income tax levy.

Neifer said the emergency levy would generate $650,000 a year for the district and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $500 a year.

The income tax levy would generate $713,000 a year and cost someone on a $50,000 annual salary $250 a year.

The earned income levy excludes investment and retirement income and would generate roughly $626,000 year and cost someone on a $50,000 annual salary $250 a year.

After the presentation those who attended the meeting were invited to split into focus groups to discuss the options and provide feedback.

Neifer said the feedback from the focus groups will be posted on the district’s website at a later date.

kwhite@mojonews.com

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