November 23, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain Schools announces cuts: 27 to be laid off, more than $6M in cuts planned

LORAIN — Faced with bad or worse outcomes in eliminating a projected $12 million deficit, Lorain Schools interim Superintendent Ed Branham recommends splitting the difference.

Branham told Board of Education members Wednesday he’ll recommend next month that the school district go into fiscal emergency in February, cut between $6.1 million and $7.6 million and borrow from the Ohio Department of Education to eliminate the remainder for the 2012-13 school year deficit.

The alternative was eliminating the entire deficit through layoffs, program cuts and reductions which Branham said would “devastate” the district.

“It just cannot be done (without) pretty much closing the school district,” he said.

The cuts would be in addition to laying off 18 teachers and nine teachers’ aides, which was approved Wednesday night by board members and would save $1.5 million. The layoffs take effect Jan. 23.

Fiscal emergency status means a state takeover and ensuing loss of local control. However, board members say they’re confident they can work with the five-member state Financial Planning and Supervision Commission in devising a financial recovery plan. The commission would include three local residents.

Branham said the district’s plight is from a lack of money, not overspending or overstaffing. The district has about 910 employees compared with 1,256 in 2002. Branham said there are 76 administrators at the Charleston Administration Center compared with 103 in the 2006-07 school year.

In May, 27 teachers were laid off, saving $1.1 million. Teachers have agreed to about $2 million in health care benefit concessions in the last two years, and in September agreed to a one-year wage freeze and 10 percent pay cut in the next year for extracurricular activities like coaching, saving about $2 million.

Branham said charter schools — privately run, but publicly funded schools that have underperformed academically in Ohio compared to traditional schools — have been a major drain on the district.

Each student lost to charters costs Lorain Schools about $5,700 annually. In 2010-11, charters cost Lorain Schools $11.4 million, open enrollment cost the district $4.5 million and school vouchers cost it $1.4 million.

“The financial impact of this is astounding,” Branham said. “And you wonder why we have a $12 million deficit.”

A 1.5-mill earned income tax levy that would’ve raised about $8.2 million annually was rejected by voters in November and the district has not had a successful levy increase since 1992. Nonetheless, board members said they’ll likely propose another levy next year.

Branham said the district must demonstrate to voters a willingness to make cuts while remaining viable. He opposes cutting major sports or closing the alternative high schools for students with academic or behavioral problems.

Branham, a former Lorain Schools assistant principal and teacher, said the district can remain strong despite the cuts.

“It has extreme potential,” he said.

Painful plan

Facing a $12 million deficit, Lorain Schools is likely to implement a financial recovery plan next year that would include up to $6 million in borrowing from the state and between $6.1 million and $7.6 million in layoffs and program cuts.

Among the cuts:

  • $1.5 million: Layoffs of 18 teachers and nine teacher’s aides approved Wednesday.
  • $1.5 million to $3 million: Lay off 50 to 100 more employees next year.
  • $947,000: Eliminate fine arts programs.
  • $737,000: Reduce kindergarten to half-day kindergarten.
  • $295,000: Eliminate academic enrichment programs.
  • $240,000: Eliminate high school busing.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.