ST. MARYS — A suffocating budget deficit at St. Marys schools could be significantly reduced by eliminating additional teaching positions and other staff jobs and by implementing cost-cutting measures above and beyond what have already been put in place by the school.
Those recommendations were contained in a performance audit released to the public Tuesday by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost. The audit was prompted by the school district’s five-year financial forecast, submitted in October of 2017, which projected a deficit for the district of nearly $1.8 million in 2020 and nearly $7 million by 2022.
And that was before an income tax levy was defeated by district voters at the polls in May of this year.
Bill Ruane, superintendent of St. Marys schools, said Tuesday discussions have been underway since spring as district officials and a state audit team comprised of auditors and representatives from the Ohio Department of Education looked at ways to ease the school district’s fiscal distress.
“We have already taken steps to cut $1.2 million from our budget,” Ruane said. “We’ve reduced staff and implemented a district-wide pay freeze, but we also know we need to make further cuts or increase our revenue.”
Voters will once again be asked in November to approve an infusion of new money into the school district. The school’s board of education placed a measure before voters asking for a five-year, 1 percent earned income tax for operating expenses. It would be the first new money sought by the district since 2004, said Ruane. The levy would generate some $2.6 million annually.
“There are $2.6 million in cuts that we’re looking at if the levy doesn’t pass,” Ruane said, not by way of a threat but simply in acknowledgement of the district’s current financial plight. “The performance audit recommended $1.6 million in cuts, but we know that would barely bring our deficit back to even,” said Ruane.
The state performance audit recommends cost-cutting measures which represent nearly $1.6 million in annual savings for the district. Those savings would be realized by reducing staffing levels throughout the district by the equivalent of 8.5 full-time positions — 5.5 teachers, one central office position, a music teacher, one half of a social worker position and one half of a nursing position. Those reductions, the auditor said, would put the district on par with staffing in peer school districts.
Yost estimated that reducing the district’s cost of employee health insurance to the regional average for public-sector entities and increasing the employee contribution could save $216,000 annually. Other cost-cutting recommendations focused the reduction of electricity costs, health insurance expenses and the purchasing of custodial supplies.
Yost acknowledged the school district has taken significant steps to reduce expenses.
“This performance audit offers the district additional ways to save money and ensure fiscal health for the near future. Several of the recommendations also would help the district better manage its long-term financial situation,” he said.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.