If the Waterloo School District goes into state financial control, some taxpayers in the district think the state will make deeper financial cuts that will eliminate the need for a levy. Superintendent Andrew Hill is inviting the community to a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday to hear for themselves that is not necessarily true.
"There's a false perception that a state takeover will cut the budget further," Hill said.
After cutting nearly $2 million out of an $11 million budget over the past couple of years, there's not much left to cut, Hill said.
"There won't be much for the state to do except put a ballot issue on election after election, that will grow each time," he said.
When the state looks at a district, it does an analysis that includes looking at staffing ratios, said John Charlton, Ohio Department of Education spokesman. Many recovery plans include staff cuts and instituting "pay-to-play" for sports and extracurriculars -- all things Waterloo already has done.
Currently, the state has 22 districts in fiscal caution and five each in fiscal watch and fiscal emergency.
Monday's forum will be held in the high school's media center, 1464 Industry Road, and will include Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito, Ohio Sen. John Eklund and Roger Hardin of the Ohio Department of Education Office of School Options and Finance.
Also taking part in the meeting will be William Stauffer, superintendent of the Springfield School District in nearby Lakemore in Summit County. His district has been in fiscal emergency.
The district has a 5.9-mill, five-year emergency operating levy on the Feb. 5 special election ballot. The levy would raise $939,557 per year. It's the same type of issue voters narrowly rejected in November, Hill said.
"It's a bad scenario, but I'm still hopeful the community will stand up for the schools," said Hill, who has been superintendent since 2010.
He said the average class size is 30 students or more, and there are fewer support staff to help students who are struggling in class.
The district, which covers Atwater and Randolph townships in southern Portage, has 1,227 students. It dropped from "Excellent with Distinction" on the state's education report card two years ago to "Excellent" last year to "Effective" on the latest report card.
Hill said the district has lost good employees who are "flat out fearful of their situation," that further job cuts could be coming.
Hill said he understands voters' concerns. Six times in three years they have rejected levies.
The small district is primarily rural with little commercial or industrial property. The recession left families and other property owners short on funds and worried about the future. Hill said the district's free and assisted lunch program jumped from serving 17 to 36 percent of students in a just a few years.
The state has three levels of financial involvement: fiscal caution; fiscal watch and fiscal emergency.
Under state law, the state superintendent "may declare fiscal caution, after consulting with the local board of education," if the district's five-year forecast indicates that conditions exist that could result in fiscal watch or fiscal emergency, or if the state auditor certifies the district has a deficit between 2 and 8 percent of the prior year general fund, but the state does not place the district in fiscal watch.
While under fiscal caution, the ODE requests the district to make written proposals within 60 days for correcting the conditions that lead to fiscal caution and prevent any further fiscal problems. The state will provide technical assistance in implementing those proposals.
If the district does not take action, the state superintendent may tell the state that fiscal watch is necessary to prevent the district's further fiscal decline.
A district can go into fiscal watch when the state auditor certifies that an operating deficit for the current fiscal year exceeds 8 percent of the district's general fund revenue for the preceding fiscal year; and that the voters have not approved a levy that would raise enough money in the next fiscal year to eliminate the deficit.
In the most serious circumstances, the state auditor will declare a district in fiscal emergency if the operating deficit exceeds 15 percent, the voters have not approved a levy, and the district fails to submit an acceptable recovery plan when one is required.
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