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Committee warned Lorain Schools of deficit


LORAIN — Officials from Lorain Schools were warned in 2005 that the school system could end the year with a deficit and be in financial emergency.
The warning was given to the school board by a citizens committee charged with addressing concerns about the school system’s financial situation, as well as its academic, safety and discipline issues.
“We requested a good bit of information. And we had a lot of questions,” Lorain City Auditor Ron Mantini, a member of the committee, said this week.
According to Mantini, the committee pored over the district’s budget and offered some valid recommendations to the board.
“We really questioned the number of administrators they had and, even more than that, the amount of pay they were getting,” Mantini said.
The May 2005 report, which was prepared as the district was preparing to ask voters to renew a 23.9-mill levy, also cited the district’s dwindling enrollment due to charter schools and open enrollment.
“Open enrollment alone had cost the district between
$6 million to $7 million in 2005 alone,” the report stated, concluding: “The voters must pass a 23.9-mill renewal levy by Dec. 31, 2006, and have 80 teachers retire over the next few years without being replaced. If these two events fail to take place, the deficit could reach as much as $28 million and place in the district in a state takeover situation.”
Mantini said he didn’t know whether the board took any action as a result of the report.
“It’s been several years now, and I don’t get an opportunity to attend school board meetings. They’re held the same time as City Council,” he said.
When school board members said at last week’s board meeting they were surprised by the district’s projected $4.75 million shortfall by June 30, angry teachers waved the 2005 report in the air and accused the board of concealing the dire financial forecast until negotiations for a new contract were in progress.
The board, meanwhile, contends previous Treasurer Jim Estle vastly underestimated the financial effect of charter schools on the district.
He had projected expenses for purchase services — payments to charter schools, utilities and transportation — at $16 million. But Ryan Ghizzoni, the district’s new treasurer, projected the expenses at $21 million, which would result in a $4.75 million deficit by June 30 and throw the district into fiscal emergency.
 “We knew we had financial problems, but we didn’t think it would hit us until 2008,” Keith Lilly, vice president of the school board, said Friday. “This was anticipated a year from now. Maybe we didn’t understand the magnitude of this problem, but the major issue is the loss of students, which can’t be controlled by anyone.”
Board President Jeanine Donaldson said she felt she’s been misled by the previous treasurer’s financial forecasts.
“Had we been given information that accurately portrayed our finances, we would have acted differently,” Donaldson said.
Lilly said the board never disputed that the district was spending more than it was taking in.
“Yet, twice we’ve made job reductions and twice LEA filed grievances against us and had legal battles. We won both times, but then they wonder why our legal expenses are so high.
“If I took their perspective, we’d fire all the administrators and hire more teachers. If I had the resources, I’d hire one teacher for every student,’’ he said. “Our focus should be to stay solvent and sacrifice as little of the children’s academic success as possible. As a board member, I look at everything that’s in the best interest for all. I won’t take my direction from a special interest group.”
Board member Raul Ramos said the board has been trying to reduce staff through attrition and offering retirement incentives for the last two years.
“But nobody’s taking it,” he said.
According to Dean Schnurr, the district’s spokesman, about 125 teachers were eligible to accept retirement packages, but only 26 had accepted when the board was forced to cut the 246 teaching positions.
He said the district cut 60 positions in 2002 and another 59 positions in 2005.
Some teachers said they felt they had no choice but to approve the new contract, which lifted restrictions on how many teaching positions could be eliminated because of finances or decreased enrollment.
“We knew jobs would be cut, but we didn’t expect anything like this,” one teacher said.
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148 or

Union unable to rescind acceptance of new contract

LORAIN — Several hundred members of the Lorain Education Association gathered Friday in hopes of calling for a vote to rescind the recently ratified three-year contract with Lorain Schools.
Their hopes, however, were quickly dashed by a representative from the Ohio Education Association.
“I have not found one case where a union can rescind a ratified vote. Once you ratify an agreement, there is no provision to rescind it,” Kathleen McGinley told the teachers.
Teachers who were outspoken and angry over the school board’s elimination of 246 teaching positions last week appeared dejected at the union’s informational meeting Friday. Some teachers, however, got a glimmer of hope when LEA President Christine Miller said a call-back list will be out July 23.
“Some people will be called back,” Miller said, adding that the exact number isn’t known.
McGinley said some teachers had commented that perhaps the school district would be better off under state control.
“You do not want that,” McGinley said.
In a takeover, a fiscal committee would be appointed by the governor. That committee would have to power to void a bargaining unit’s contract and reduce all teachers’ salaries back to the state minimum of $24,000 annually, McGinley said.
“The committee has absolute control, and if you don’t comply, it’s a criminal charge,” she said.
A flier distributed by LEA leadership at the meeting said the union was enjoying a large amount of popularity and sympathy from the public. “Let’s try to exploit this situation to our advantage,” the flier read.
The flier also encouraged incoming Lorain Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson to voluntarily reduce her salary next year to that of current Superintendent Dee Morgan’s “as a sign of good faith and integrity to show that she wants to be a member of the community and not some out-of-town carpetbagger here to get rich on the backs of our children and then cut and run out of town.”
Morgan is paid $130,000 a year. Atkinson will be paid $175,000 annually.
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148 or

Number of staff cuts adjusted; 25 layoffs to be announced next week
For the second time in two days, Superintendent Dee Morgan has postponed releasing a list of which support and administrative positions are being eliminated at the district’s Charleston Administration Center.
Morgan declined to reveal the names and positions of workers being let go Thursday after she was unable to contact two of the workers on the list because they were on vacation. She said the list would be released Friday.
However, Dean Schnurr, spokesman for the school district, said Friday that some alterations were made to the list, and now it won’t be released until Monday.
He also said approximately 25 positions will be eliminated, not 30 as previously reported.
— Bette Pearce


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