June 28, 2016


‘A lot of work ahead’ for Elyria district

ELYRIA — Twenty-four hours didn’t lessen the sting of the blow Elyria Schools received Tuesday at the polls when voters rejected a plea for additional operating revenue.

One day after losing a bid for a 10-year, 4.99-mill levy, Elyria school board members lamented the loss and what the future would hold for the district that, despite its financial shortcomings, is experiencing more academic success than in years past.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Superintendent Paul Rigda said Wednesday evening. “All day long people have been asking me what the district is going to do next. Well, we are going to do what we said we were going to do. We are going to cut another $3 million from the budget.”

So, the next question that begs to be asked is where?

“There isn’t much left to cut,” said board member Ginny Hawes. “We have been cutting and combining continuously for the past six years. So this will not be easy.”

The most vulnerable programs will be likely be band, orchestra, art classes, sports and physical education.

Rigda said that despite what residents may think, district administrators do not have a list of proposed cuts. Going into this most recent election, Rigda said the district only knew that it could not cut another $3 million easily.

“I know there are a lot of people who say cut a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but that never adds up to
$3 million,” Rigda said.

“And, residents always want to know why we go to the extracurricular programs and classes first,” he added. “Those are not provided for by the state — elements that are extremely important for character building that teach you to work as a team and understand the winning-and-losing aspect of life.

“But none of those are required by state law. Mathematics, social studies and science, even budgeting, is required by the state. We cannot eliminate the core. That is required by the state.”

Board member Kathryn Karpus said she worked the polls Tuesday and was often confronted by community members who wondered if the cuts would be band, orchestra or if the district would go to pay-to-play for sports. It only re-inforced for her the rippling effect the upcoming cuts would have in the community.

She was emotional as she spoke about wishing things would be easier in the coming months.

“We as a board are expressing our concern of how we want to continue the progress we have made,” she said. “We want to continue with the work we have done in the community.”

The loss is even harder to swallow because last year the district cut roughly $2.9 million from the budget by eliminating 47 positions. As a result, teachers and staff members left behind have picked up the extra weight.

“We have increased class sizes, closed buildings and done all of the things on the peripheral, which we should have because that’s our responsibility — that we can,” Rigda said.

Still, Board President Evelyn France said there was no anger among board members and school officials.

“It is not anger you are hearing,” she said. “It is frustration, confusion and still hope. We still have hope we will be able to turn this thing around. Hope and belief in our kids has not been diminished at all. We don’t have the answer … but we are not giving up.”

Rigda said he does not believe the vote was a vote of no confidence in district officials. Rather Elyrians just expressed their own financial hurt at the polls.

“I have to respect those who heard what we have to say and said, ‘Cut anyway. We are not going to give you any more money,’” he said.

The precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the unofficial election results show that Elyria lost in nearly every ward and precinct. The levy won huge in Ward 5 — where the new Elyria High School is — taking every precinct in the district’s voting area. There was success in Ward 3, where the district won by fewer than 25 votes.

The district is contractually obligated through the rest of the year to its teachers. However, cuts will likely be announced in the coming months to give residents an idea of what’s to come.

It’s too soon to determine if the district will return to the ballot in May, Rigda said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

About Lisa Roberson

Lisa Roberson has been with the Chronicle since 2006, and covers Elyria city government and public education. She can be reached at 329-7121 or LRoberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter.