July 22, 2014

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Lorain school board OKs cuts; number to be revealed March 29

LORAIN — The number of Lorain Schools employees to be laid off is expected to be announced at a March 29 special Board of Education meeting.

Board members on Thursday approved sending out layoff notices as part of deficit-reduction efforts.

“This is probably one of the most difficult decisions a school board has to make,” said board member Mitchell Fallis prior to the unanimous vote. “It’s certainly a reflection of our city and the economy.”

Interim Superintendent Ed Branham said the identities of who will be laid off will be determined in April. A union bumping process based on qualifications and seniority happens first.

“These decisions are heart-wrenching,” said Branham, who had previously estimated up to 150 layoffs. “The school district is broke.”

The layoffs are part of about $7.4 million in cuts that include reductions in athletic, half-day kindergarten and extracurricular programs. The district still has a projected $4.7 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year and is expected to enter into fiscal emergency and be taken over by a state financial panel next year.

In addition to shrinking state taxpayer money and competition from charter schools and open enrollment, the deficit is because voters not passing a new levy since 1992. Board members expect to decide at the meeting whether to seek an earned income tax levy, which would not affect capital gains, dividends, pensions or Social Security, or a property tax levy in November. A 1.5 percent earned income tax that would’ve raised $8.2 million annually was rejected by voters in November by about a 6 percent margin.

There were only about 30 people at Thursday’s meeting, many of them school employees, and Branham said greater parent involvement will be needed to rally support for levy passage.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is,” he said. “This is a crisis situation. It’s crucial.”

In other business:

  • Board members’ decision last month to raze Lorain High School at 2600 Ashland Ave., and move students out for four years while the new high school is being built on the Ashland Avenue site was criticized. The plan calls for ninth -graders to move to Southview Middle School and 10th through 12th graders to move back into to the former Southview High School. Parent Christy McElwain said with the district eliminating busing it will be difficult to get her daughter, a high school freshman, to school. “Take into consideration that you’d be hurting a lot of kids,” she said.
  • Board members’ cost-saving redistricting plan, which includes closing the former Masson School and moving Credit Recovery Academy students to Southview Middle School, was also criticized. Kim Aliff, a Southview teacher’s aide, presented board members with a petition against redistricting signed by about 210 students and teachers. “We can’t only just be about money,” she said. “This decision, however hard I know that it’s been on you guys, it’s going to be even harder on (students).”
  • Board president Tim Williams said a search committee for a new superintendent will be comprised of Branham, two board members and Mayor Chase Ritenauer, as well as up to three other Lorain residents. Williams said the committee will be formed by the month’s end and plans to interview candidates in June. Williams said either the Ohio School Board Association or Educational Service Center of Lorain County will be paid up to $10,000 to assist in the search. Board member Tony Dimacchia criticized the move, saying consultants wouldn’t know Lorain as well as board members.
  • Board members approved spending up to $131,000 to repair the Charleston Administration Center’s leaky roof. “It’s causing major damages to our furniture, our supplies (and) our carpeting,” Branham said. The board hired Sibley Roofing without bidding on the project. Williams said bidding wasn’t done because the work needed to be done immediately.

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