SL Budget Forecast Passes but Remains Unclear

  The Southern Local Board of Education approved the district’s five-year forecast, but the exact figures are unclear amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


    With the State of Ohio calling for a $775 million cut in K-12 education because of the related lockdown, leaders are submitting preliminary numbers but say they are very likely to change. The board approved its forecast during the regular meeting on May 12 and officials said they will continue to operate the district with the utmost efficiency during this tenuous time.


    District Treasurer Greg Sabbato said a 10-percent cut—or more than $110,000-- was anticipated in foundation funds which comprise a majority of the district’s coffers. He also expects a rise in real estate delinquencies since many people were left unemployed and unable to play bills because the lockdown also included businesses and affected people’s livelihood. Sabbato noted that the current situation was worse than the housing crisis of 2003, which impacted banking and securities, because this affects everything.


   “Most of the revenue is from Ohio’s sales and income taxes,” he said. “I hope this is the worst of the worst.”


  Sabbato expects the numbers to change so the district gains a clearer picture on what funding they have to operate in the foreseeable future. Until then, they have to stay the course and operate even more prudently. 


   “My biggest message is this is all speculation, but we won’t know until we know. I think we’ll get through this next year,” he said. “I think we need to get through this year efficiently so we can get back to normal.”


    He said the shutdown has saved some costs on utilities and bus fuel, but other expenses remain such as employees’ wages and plenty of work is going on behind the scenes to see the district through the storm. Superintendent Tom Cunningham agreed, saying leaders will be keeping a close eye on future purchases and want to acquire only what is necessary, but they also want to ensure students still get the education they deserve.


   “We’ve talked to all of our departments and administrators and are putting a hold on all purchases unless they are necessary. We are doing our due diligence from making sure we have better maintenance to mending uniforms. We are getting a firm grip on curriculum needs and making sure it’s something we are going to commit to,” Cunningham added, saying the district may also streamline busing and review cafeteria operations and other practices to remain cost-efficient overall.


   “Greg and I have been talking and want to make sure everyone in the building understands that we are making do with what we have. We will make more purchases for as long as we can and look at our vision going forward with limited resources.”


   The district may not have concrete numbers until late summer or fall, but Cunningham said they are looking at the worst-case scenario while also trying to meet students’ needs.


    In related matters, the board approved the second reading of a resolution to implement a contingency plan now and into the future.          The plan includes guidelines to follow for the 2019-20 school year should the building remain shut down amid a disease epidemic or 

other causes. Under state law, schools must operate for a minimum of 910 for students in grades K-6 and 1,001 hours for those in grades 7-12. Southern Local is following Ohio House Bill 197, which was passed on March 27 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency and permits boards to adopt a plan for online learning opportunities so students can make up an unlimited number of hours in lieu of attending on days the buildings were not open in compliance with orders issued by the state and local health boards. The measure includes providing online instruction and related services, including support for special education. Should circumstances warrant changes in the plan, it may be amended by the superintendent at any time.


   On a similar note, Cunningham said committees will be formed to accommodate students who may be hesitant to return to school once it re-opens.


   “We’ll meet and form committees to be more proactive for students looking for an online alternative if they are nervous about coming back to school,” he said. 


   In other action, the board:

--Approved Gerard Grimm as boys’ basketball head coach; Kyle Exline as golf coach and assistant athletic director; Andy Vulgamore as bowling coach; James Ryan Smith as marching band assistant; and Stephen Grimm as assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach;

--Approved pencil-and-paper testing for third graders effective with the 2020-21 school year;

--approved a two-year supplemental contract for superintendent’s secretary Tammy Phillips to perform duties for Utica Shale Academy;

--Tabled the one-year contract for SLHS Assistant Principal Ron Sines;

--Approved the resignation of Eric Nejus effective May 30;

--Approved the retirement of Debbie Lyle, who was wished well in her endeavors;

--Approved the list of 2020 graduates;

--Approved three-year teaching contracts for Heather McCartney, Shannon Rodgers, Stephanie Gonzales, Holly Davis, Michele Skinner, Alyssa Lockhart, Cindy Peshel, Fernando Dechellis, Marylou Taylor, Tiffany Scheel, Brett Hughes, KellyAnn Clark and Kristin Hepner;

--Approved one-year contracts for SLHS Athletic Director Bob Shansky and SLES Guidance Counselor Larry Rudloff;

--Approved a supplemental contract for Cindy Peshel for preschool itinerant services for speech;

--Approved a one-year contract for Kim Boston as bus driver;

--Approved Soursa as the district’s insurance carrier.