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Savings ideas sought

By Jeanne Starmack

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Do you want to give the school district ideas to save money?
AUSTINTOWN -- New school board president Michael Creatore has some definite ideas on how to save the school district money.
Maybe you do, too. If so, you'll get your chance to pitch your ideas to Creatore, the other board members and district administrators at the state of the schools meeting at 7 tonight in the cafeteria at Fitch High School.
Schools Superintendent Doug Heuer said that because of inflation and rising fuel and natural gas costs, the district is going to need an additional $1.2 million next year just to continue operating. There will have to be cuts, he said.
The district will get $200,000 from 6.2 of 10 mills the township distributes, Heuer said. That 10 mills is not voted on, but is automatically collected under law by municipalities.
That leaves $1 million worth of cuts the district is faced with for next school year, he said.
Heuer said he doesn't consider that a significant amount. But if the community rejects two renewal levies that will be on the May ballot, the district will lose an additional $2.6 million. At $3.6 million, or 12 percent of the district's revenue, the loss would mean significant cuts would have to be made, he said.
Increased costs
Heuer said heating bills are a great example of how the district is being squeezed. In November, the district's heating bill was $34,000. In December, Heuer said, the bill was $116,000, and that was with a week off for the holidays.
Heuer plans a short address tonight.
"We are laying out for the public every program, service, staffing and facility that exceeds state requirements," he said. Then, people will be asked to break up into groups to brainstorm.
"It's good to have community input," said Creatore. But what of his own ideas for cutbacks?
"When it comes to cuts, we'll evaluate personnel positions, increases in class sizes, and take a close look at where we can make cuts that won't affect student achievement," he said.
Creatore said he has been adamant about asking teachers at Fitch High School to cut back from two planning periods to one a day. He said that if they teach six instead of five classes a day, the district could cut back on teachers. The contract allows for layoffs of up to 10, he noted.
He also said the district may be able to cut personnel costs with retirements.
Busing cuts
One cutback Creatore wants to see restored is the busing cuts for this year that Heuer has said saved the district $260,000.
Creatore and board vice president Richard Zimmermann are working to bring back two buses, one for the middle schools and some elementary schools and one for the high school, by Feb. 1. They are meeting with the district's transportation director. Heuer said it will cost $30,000 for the two buses.
Creatore said they want to get pupils home sooner and shorten walks to bus stops. "The older kids got the brunt of that."
Creatore also said that for next year, the board will seek input from the parochial schools, where busing cuts altered routes and angered parents. He said he wants to get input from other school districts such as Canfield, Boardman and Poland.
"I don't believe we should have cut such an important service," he said.