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Lorain school district presents bleak fiscal forecast


LORAIN — The last Lorain school board meeting before the Nov. 2 levy was a dramatic one, capped with an intense speech by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.

Atkinson said the district was at “a crossroads.”

Addressing the controversy over the plan to build a new high school along the Black River near downtown Lorain and it being tied in to a lack of voter support for Issue 8, the 10-year, 9.12-mill, $6 million Lorain Schools levy, Atkinson said voting against the levy would hurt no one but the children.

“They didn’t decide where to put the high school,” Atkinson said, close to tears. “They deserve to go to school with the opportunities all of us had. Not supporting the levy won’t hurt the adults. It will hurt the children, the city and the district.”

If the levy is passed, it would cost homeowners an additional $320 per year per $100,000 of home value.

Treasurer Dale Weber gave his latest five-year projections. There was lots of red ink in his charts.

With the $9 million in cuts the district has made so far, Weber said, it will finish the 2010-11 school year with a balance of $27,540.

Weber said his projections could not factor in any revenue other than what the district currently brings in.

After the 2011-12 school year, he said, the district will be $10.3 million in the red. And, he said in answer to a question from board member Paul Biber, he could not certify the district’s payroll in those circumstances.

If circumstances get bad enough, it is likely the state will come in and assume control of the district.

And that means the state will run things and hand the bill to Lorain, Atkinson said.

Weber also addressed ways the district will cut spending if the Nov. 2 levy fails.

Twenty-one fine arts teachers would be gone, along with 86 regular education positions, both teaching and non-teaching.

Five elementary school principals, four high school administrators, three middle school administrators, three secretaries and some kindergarten aides would be eliminated. Also cut would be maintenance, custodial and cleaning staff. Psychology and security positions would be outsourced.

Athletics would be hit. High school swimming, bowling and JV cheerleading, and all middle school and elementary school sports programs, would be cut.

Pay-to-play would be instituted for sports and clubs. Sports would be $300 per child for each sport they play, and $100 for each club.

Busing would only be at the state minimum standard.

“We want people to know exactly what’s at stake,” Atkinson said. “I don’t know how we’ll meet state requirements. We’re getting at the end of the rope with the general fund as it is.”

“When you’ve had no new money for 17 years, things are going to get as tight as they can get,” said board president Tony Dimacchia.

The board also voted at the meeting to approve the lease of the controversial riverfront land from the Port Authority to build the new high school. The district will pay the Port Authority $100 per year for the site but will not own the land.

Board member Bill Sturgill, who had earlier opposed the site, said he was voting to approve the lease after going to the site by himself.

“I got past the safety issues,” he said, adding that it was the neutral, central site the public had told the board it wanted.

Board member Jim Smith stayed firm in his opposition to the site, citing additional costs for site cleanup, obtaining land for access and developing utilities.

“Where will the money come from?” he asked.

Smith said the land behind Lorain High School was the best solution, because the district owns the land and utilities are in place.

Lorain Councilwoman Anne Molnar, D-at large, said during the public hearing that the board was ignoring the will of the people who are opposed to the riverfront site.

Smith asked Atkinson for the current enrollment figures. Atkinson said the figures will be ready before they are submitted to the state department of education in January.

Contact Melissa Hebert at 329-7129 or mhebert@chroniclet.com.

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