September 30, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
60°F
test

Lorain school district cuts 2 more employees

LORAIN — Seeking to dispel the perception of a bloated Lorain Schools administration as the district seeks support for a levy, interim Superintendent Ed Branham on Tuesday defended the number of layoffs at the Charleston Administration Center and announced two more.

Branham was responding to May 24 criticism from teachers union president David Wood that layoffs of 182 employees in cutting $7.4 million of a projected $12 million deficit disproportionately affected teachers.

The layoffs included 93 teachers, with nine later recalled because of retirements. The deficit is due to decreased local and state tax money and competition from charter schools and open enrollment.

Wood had called on Branham to make more cuts at Charleston and had offered a counter plan of district cuts that also called for recruiting 101 students during the 2012-13 school year, bringing in $575,000 in state money. Another $500,000 would be gained through community fundraising during the year.

Wood also suggested that the district, expected to become insolvent and triggering a state takeover, declare fiscal emergency in August, allowing the Ohio Department of Education to advance the district $4.5 million. The district would have two years to pay back the no-interest advance.

Branham told school board members at their Tuesday meeting that he cut six administrators at Charleston in October, saving $600,000, as well as five administrators from around the district, saving an additional $360,000.

Another $160,000, the equivalent of two full-time administrators, was cut from the federal student reading improvement program known as Success for All.

Branham said the cuts resulted in a 22 percent staff reduction at Charleston and an 8 percent overall reduction in building administrators since October. Overall administrative reductions since October amount to $1.1 million.

Two more layoffs were approved Tuesday at Charleston, one of them an administrator, and saves an additional $140,000. There are now 63 employees at Charleston, including 22 administrators.

Branham vowed to work with Wood to cut costs but said Wood’s plan contained “miscalculations and unrealistic expectations.”

According to Branham, if the district, where enrollment dropped from about 8,900 students in 2006-07 to 7,500 students at the start of this school year, were to recruit 100 students, the district would need to hire more teachers.

He said Wood’s fundraising plan was “a very lofty idea, and it is not very likely.”

Wood said the advance would allow the district to regroup, but Branham said it can’t afford more borrowing.

“We need an increase in funding, rather than relying on loans that have to be paid back,” Branham said.

In other business
Board President Tim Williams said last month that the board would seek a property tax levy rather than an income tax increase so as not to compete with Mayor Chase Ritenauer, whose administration is seeking a 0.5 percentage point income tax hike. However, board member Tony Dimacchia argued Tuesday for a 1 percentage point income tax hike.

Dimacchia said that the 4.8-mill levy the board is contemplating would raise nearly $2.9 million annually, leaving the district about $3.3 million in the red. Dimacchia noted that voters haven’t approved a new levy since 1992 and multiple property tax levies have been defeated since 2008.  A 1.5 percent earned income tax that only affected workers was defeated in November by a relatively close 53 percent to 47 percent margin.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Dimacchia said. “The income tax is the best option.”

Board member Jim Smith clashed with Dimacchia and Williams over Smith’s proposal that the district have Lorain’s Law Department handle its legal matters to save money. In the 2011-12 school year, the board spent $182,287 on legal fees, with Giardini, Cook & Nicol, school board attorney Anthony Giardini’s firm, receiving $111,386. Giardini’s firm has averaged about $110,000 per year in payments from the district since beginning work in 2009. Overall, legal bills are down about
50 percent since Giardini  took over. The city department, which has two prosecutors and six other lawyers including Law Director Pat Riley, doesn’t have the staff or expertise to represent the district, according to Riley. But Smith said Ohio law allows school districts to be represented by city legal departments.

“It’s going to come out of taxpayers’ pockets one way or the other; it’s just that when it comes out of the city taxpayers’ (pockets), we have more money for our kids,” Smith said.

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