GALLIPOLIS – Superintendent Roger Mace sat down with the Gallipolis Daily Tribune this week to clarify the district’s plans to save nearly $750,000.
Last week, the district unveiled its financial reduction plan, which calls for cutting four teachers and five aides, combining and not replacing classified staff, reducing extended and contracted days, and reducing 30-hour employees to 29 hours per week, among other cuts.
“The reason we are in this situation … our funding system for public schools coming from the state is very unfair,” Mace said. “The way (the state calculates) the formula for each school district is unfair.”
Mace said the financial reduction plan is a “working document,” which means if a better alternative can be reached by June 30, it can be used to replace the plan already submitted to the Ohio Department of Education.
GCSD is considered in a state of “fiscal caution” by ODE, which is one of three levels that alerts school districts of potential fiscal distress, and is required to submit plans to correct its fiscal situation. Legislation was enacted in 1996 by the state Legislature to address financial distress in school districts. According to Ohio Revised Code 3316.031, it basically allows ODE, in consultation with the Auditor of State, to develop guidelines to identify practices that could lead to financial crisis if uncorrected. Before declaring a fiscal caution, ODE must consult with the local board of education.
The other two levels are fiscal watch and fiscal emergency, in which ODE would assume full control and develop a financial plan with no local input. Under fiscal caution, GCSD currently has local control over its plan.
Mace said the exhaustion of federal stimulus money ($2.4 million between 2009-13), personal tangibles ($1.5 million), property taxes ($140,000, two years), personal services ($495,345, three years), retirement/insurances ($640,000), purchases services ($878,553, three years), severance pay ($576,000, three years) and reduced enrollment ($658,000) total to a revenue loss of $7.1 million, and thus creates a need for the financial reduction plan.
“We lost property tax from Holzer Health System — $140,000 — when they went nonprofit,” he said. “Personal services, you know, all salaries for staff, sub pay, severance pay and overtime, that’s gone up $495,000. Purchased services, when you look at electric, gas, maintenance and repairs … since 2009, we’ve seen an increase of $878,000.”
Mace also said the State Teachers Retirement System recently changed the way how and when employees can retire.
“A lot of people were retiring on 98 percent of their retirement,” he said. “Now it’s 77 percent. That’s why we had 18 teachers leave last year.”
Mace said reducing the number of teachers at the high school by four would save GCSD $258,220. Cutting five aides, he said, would save GCSD $123,019. That figure includes teacher and aide salary, retirement, Medicare, insurance and workers’ compensation costs for each. According to the financial reduction plan, one of the four teachers is retiring while one is being absorbed by another employee who will teach two subjects instead of one.
In addition to the one retiring teacher, Mace said two more have also indicated their plans to retire.
“As more people retire, we will evaluate the savings of replacing the staff member retiring and add that to the total money needed for reductions,” he said. “No matter the savings, at this time we will have to move forward with reducing the four teachers. As we do the student scheduling, we will evaluate the need for courses as we go through the process and if we need to bring a teacher back, then we would do that.”
During the 2014-15 school year, the district hired 18 new employees — 16 teachers and two aides. Mace said they were hired because the same number of people retired.
Enrollment, according to the financial reduction plan, is down 127 students since 2007-08. At that time, Mace said there were 2,233 students. In 2014-15, there were 2,106 students in the district.
“You take that and there’s another $658,000 (in lost revenue),” he said. Mace added that GCSD receives roughly $5,900 this year for each student.
Total revenue, Mace said, has decreased over the last five years by $7.1 million.
“It’s just a combination of things that has forced us (into this situation),” he said.
With the stimulus money — a short-term federal government stop-gap, and reductions in other revenue streams, Mace said the shortfall was seen long in advance and the district began cutting $815,000 during the last five years, mostly through attrition and combining positions.
“That’s one thing people forget about,” he said. “We (cut) a music teacher at the middle school, a preschool teacher, a technology teacher, an art teacher, math teacher, language arts at the middle school, language arts at the high school. All these positions have either been reduced or combined in order to see this shortfall that we were seeing.”
Mace said if those cuts had not been made at the time, the current financial reduction plan would include much deeper cuts than what is being presented.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what we have done — and trying to be proactive instead of reactive — in a lot of situations,” he said.
Before the stimulus money, the district received federal funds under Public Based Assistance. Because GCSD does not have a high enough tax base to support itself, it relies heavily upon state and federal funds. Receipts were more than $1.4 million during each fiscal year from 2007-09. The funds decreased to $57,808 in 2010.
In 2010, GCSD began receiving federal stimulus funds totaling $766,518 in 2010; $943,503 in 2011; $546,938 in 2012; and $145,881 in 2013.
Although the district received stimulus money, it lost state funding, which Mace blamed on the state government and charter schools.
“We just billed back the Ohio Department of Education for $1.6 million. That was an estimate of what we lost (to charter schools) in five years,” Mace said. “I figured it at $325,000 per year.”
One remedy, Mace said, to save some of the cuts is for staff to take a four-day contract reduction — or four days without pay.
“If every person would take a four-day contract reduction — and that’s including the superintendent, the treasurer, everyone — we would save about $273,000,” he said. “That would save the aides from being reduced, that would save the 30-hour to 29-hour employees and (it would save cuts to) the extended days. We wouldn’t lose any of that.”
Some employees, according to Mace, say reducing contract days would affect their respective retirements.
“Those are people who are looking to retire in the next three to five years,” he said. “Anything after 27 years, they don’t get a raise. If they take the four days, and they’re already past the 27 years of service, it’s not going to have a huge impact because you can’t get any more raises. (Employees) max out at $63,147.”
Mace said he had discussions about the budget and financial reductions at the beginning of the year when he talked with school staff and union representatives.
“First day of school, I spoke with the staff and said we would have reductions,” Mace said. “I’ve tried to communicate it. I’ve spoken with Mark Brown, the union president for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees. I’ve had this conversation with Lenny Poague and Michelle Hixon (president and vice president, respectively) of the Gallipolis Education Association. This was no surprise as I have been telling these individuals that we need to look at this and we are going to have some reductions.”
Brown was in attendance at the meeting with the superintendent and Daily Tribune and offered no objection to Mace’s statement. Several attempts to reach Poague for comment were unsuccessful as of press time Wednesday.
Hixon, however, released the following statement to the Daily Tribune:
“As teachers in the Gallipolis City Schools, we are deeply committed to the success of every student. We want to ensure that every student has a caring, qualified and committed teacher. We are frustrated with the current financial crisis the district is in, and are concerned how this is going to impact the education of our students. We expect the district to be dedicated to classroom priorities that build the foundation for student learning. We will continue to provide high-quality education with the best interests of our students in mind during these uncertain times.”
Despite the shortfall, Mace said he is trying to work on trying to save as many jobs as he can.
“We’re all in this together. I try not to look at myself any better than anyone else in this district and I would never ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do,” he said. “In leadership, we have to make bold decisions and we have to stand behind our decisions. Unfortunately, when times are tough, I’m taking the brunt of it. I’ve chosen to do that.”
“I’ve dug deep down and we’re going to find a way to save these jobs,” Mace added. “I don’t know how yet, but we’re going to.”
Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.