July 22, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain Schools forming board to monitor finances

LORAIN — An apologetic Jeanine Donaldson, president of Lorain school board, announced Monday that the board will form a business advisory committee to help monitor the district’s finances in the wake of a multimillion dollar deficit that forced the layoff of nearly one-third of the district’s teachers.
“We are deeply sorry for the situation regarding our financial situation,” Donaldson said. “I know we need to accept full responsibility. There is no doubt we need a strong system of internal checks and balances. We know we let you down.”
Donaldson’s contrite remarks came in the wake of a $4.75 million deficit expected by June 30 that forced the district to eliminate 246 teaching positions and about 26 positions at the Charleston Administrative Center. Job cuts also are planned in the support-staff ranks.
  The announcement brought applause from the estimated 300 people — parents, teachers, former teachers and students — attending the meeting.
She said the new business advisory council will include local, private-sector financial and operational experts along with representatives from the city and teachers.
The process will begin Aug. 1 — giving new Treasurer Ryan Ghizzoni time to work out details, Donaldson said.
The committee is expected to in place by Sept. 30, with its first quarterly meeting scheduled for Oct. 1.
Donaldson said the committee, with help from a panel of experts, will verify assumptions and balances that underlie long-range forecasts and annual budgets.
Directors and principals will have a budget, which will be overseen by the superintendent, treasurer and the board’s finance committee.
The treasurer, superintendent and human resources director will act as a board of control – reviewing all expenditures. They’ll also create system to make certain that “as we rebuild staff, we do it right,” she said.
A subcommittee will work with the treasurer on quarterly budget reviews and report on changes in budget conditions at public meetings, Donaldson said.
The first report by that subcommittee will be given some time in October, after the first quarter.
Donaldson said the committee also will work with the school board in determining whether a new levy would get public support.
She also said the school board will require annual outside audits of the district’s finances.
“The district’s budget versus actual status will be posted online,” Donaldson said. “We take responsibility for what has happened and we intend to move on.”
At last week’s meeting and again Monday night, the board listened to parents’ and teachers’ pleas to restore arts and music programs in the elementary schools that were eliminated with the job cuts.
Superintendent Dee Morgan said she’d received approval from the Ohio Department of Education to redirect Title 1 funds to 11 regular classroom teachers for one year. Title 1 funds normally are restricted to learning programs for low-income, at-risk children.
Although the Title 1 funds can’t be used for arts and music programs, they will allow the district to restore 11 regular classroom teachers. The money already budgeted for the classroom teachers can then be used instead to pay for 11 arts and music positions in the elementary schools.
“We have to fill the classrooms first. We’re at 11 people, but we need 15 to run those elementary programs,” Morgan said. “We need additional dollars, and we’re going line by line in the budget to try to find them.”
Morgan hopes the district will be able to restore 30 teaching positions by fall.
Christine Miller, president of the Lorain Education Association, said a recent meeting with the school district’s negotiations team about ways to cut expenditures to restore teaching positions did not go well.
“We were met with stony silence, or they’d say, ‘Well, that would just restore one position; big deal,’ ” Miller said.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, a group of schoolchildren added a bit of drama when they unrolled a 500-foot long banner adorned with 4,000 small cards that people had signed urging the school board to restore art, drama, music and physical education programs in the elementary schools.
Teacher Colette Buck said the signatures were gathered at last weekend’s International Festival.
“We printed 4,000 cards and ran out,” Buck said. “Some children wrote on the back of their cards, ‘I want my teachers back.’ ”
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148 or bpearce@chroniclet.com.