Waterloo Local School District voters heard on Monday that the idea of letting the state take over is not a practical way out of financial difficulty. Instead, it's like the old story of "you can pay me now or you can pay me later." And "later" comes with a much higher price tag.
Roger Hardin of the Ohio Department of Education Office of School Options and Finance said if the state has to lend financial assistance for a district to pay its bills that "solvency assistance" has to be paid back. Essentially, the district would have to keep putting higher levies on until voters pass one.
Hardin said Waterloo has made significant cuts to its budget, eliminating an expected $900,000 deficit this past year. The district cut nearly $2 million out of its budget in the past two years.
"It shows your board has been working hard," he said.
Right now, Waterloo is looking at a deficit in fiscal year 2015. Superintendent Andrew Hill said the district still is six or seven teachers above minimum state standards. He said if further cuts have to be made, they would be in electives and classes where the district is above the state staffing recommendation.
"We're not even sure we have enough (jobs) to cut to make up the deficit," Hill said.
About 90 people packed the high school media center to hear what could happen if the district does not pass a levy to avoid a deficit. The forum was sponsored by the Waterloo Community Action Committee, which is promoting the district's 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 rejected in November.
The forum included Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito, State Sen. John Eklund, State Rep. Kathleen Clyde and William Stauffer, superintendent of the Springfield School District in nearby Lakemore in Summit County. His district has been in fiscal emergency for six years.
"There's a misconception -- 'Just welcome the state in and they'll solve all your problems,'" Stauffer said. What happened was Springfield cut about 100 positions and is now spending about $6 million a year less than six year ago, Stauffer said
"We were way overstaffed and were spending like crazy. That's not the situation in Waterloo. You do not want the state coming in," he said.
The Ohio Supreme Court has found the state's school funding to be unconstitutional. Clyde said Gov. John Kasich is going to propose a new plan.
"We don't know yet what will be out there," she said.
Clyde pledged to continue to fight for fair funding for K-12 education. She said Ohio needs to take some of the burden off local property owners.
Eklund said he "would not be optimistic" about more state money for Waterloo. He said local districts should stop "focusing on how many dollars" are coming from the state and on is money is spent efficiently and the districts are operated efficiently."
Waterloo, 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.
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