CUYAHOGA FALLS — Board of Education members said they will need to gather more information before making any decisions on cost-cutting measures recently recommended by the state auditor’s office.

The board on Wednesday night discussed the $5.5 million in potential cuts listed in a recently completed performance audit. No decisions were made, but board members asked for several pieces of information to help guide them.

In a Dec. 11 letter to district officials and residents, Auditor of State Dave Yost said his office selected the Falls district for a performance audit “based on its projected financial condition.”

The auditor’s report stated that implementing the cost-cutting recommendations in the performance audit “would allow the District to avoid forecasted deficits in each year” from 2020-21 through 2022-23. The board shared their feedback on the recommendations.

One recommendation offered by the auditor is eliminating 20 general education teacher positions, which would save $1.55 million.

Board President Karen Schofield said she wants the board to examine “as many other options as possible … before we would entertain this kind of [reduction].”

Board member Kathy Moffet agreed with Schofield, noting that reducing teaching positions is “painful.”

Another proposed cut is to eliminate a curriculum specialist position. Board member Anthony Gomez suggested the board examine what programs are offered by districts that do not have a curriculum specialist. If officials find that Falls is providing more programs due to the curriculum specialist, he said that may be a way to justify keeping that job.

Board member Dave Martin said the district “might want to take a look at” the auditor’s recommendation to eliminate a full-time counseling position. Nichols said there are three counselors for the six elementary school buildings, three for the two middle school buildings and four for the high school.

“Social and emotional needs are on the rise,” observed Nichols.

Gomez also asked for information on how much money has been collected through the use of pay-to-participate fees.

“With the numbers I’ve got here, it doesn’t seem like it’s really even much of a value [and it] puts a strain on our families,” said Gomez.

Nichols said pay-to-participate fees are used to help cover supplemental and transportation costs.

Resident Kellie Patterson encouraged the Board to “think outside the box” when looking at ways to reduce costs. She encouraged the board to examine how much open enrollment was costing the district and look at reducing some of the benefits provided to staff. This would include addressing the cost of insurance, reducing the number of vacation days and paid holidays, and doing a “use it or lose it” approach to sick days and vacation days rather than paying out accumulated sick and vacation time.

Schofield noted that the benefits discussed by Patterson are items that the board would address in an executive session as part of discussion of the collective bargaining agreements.

Two of the other proposed recommendations offered by the auditor are: renegotiating collective bargaining agreement provisions (projected to save $166,500); and decreasing the employer’s cost of medical insurance ($1.51 million).

School Board must submit written plan to state by Jan. 31

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has asked the district to submit a written plan by Jan. 31 on how it plans to reduce expenditures and boost revenue.

A letter from ODE sent to the district in November noted that the district was projecting a $4.1 million deficit at the end of Fiscal Year 2021 and stipulated the district must submit a written plan by the end of the month to show the Board “is actively engaging in proactive measures to reduce expenditures and eliminate the forecasted deficits.”

District Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said the district submitted a five-year forecast to ODE in October in which the district projected a $4.1 million deficit at the end of Fiscal Year 2021. Since then, however, due to some transfers, some revenues, and limiting of expenditures, that projected deficit at the end of Fiscal Year 2021 is now $2.4 million. The administration checked on whether it could submit a revised five-year forecast to ODE and whether that changed version could be used as the basis of its written plan to ODE.

When the district submits its written plan to ODE, Nichols said it will have to use the five-year forecast from October, but learned from ODE that “the things that have taken place as a result of the cost of doing business that have reduced that deficit are allowed to be included in the written plan.”

Nichols said it “does not appear” the district needs to submit a revised five-year forecast, however, he noted the Board may wish to do so.

The Board is expected to discuss the district’s written plan to ODE at its next meeting on Jan. 23, but Nichols said he’s not certain whether it will be finalized that evening.

A look at levies on the books

The district currently has four levies on the books: a 7.9-mill levy that generates $5.7 million per year; a 9.97-mill levy that raises $7.2 million annually; a 4.75-mill measure that provides $3.27 million a year; and a 4.9-mill levy that generates $3.7 million per year. All four will need to be renewed during the next four years to ensure an uninterrupted collection. None of the levies are expiring at the end of this year. Nichols said this November would be an “opportunity” for the Board to consider putting a new levy on the ballot.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.