Youngstown schools’ budget must be handled with care

Six months after he was ap- pointed superintendent of the Youngstown City School District, Dr. Connie Hathorn had the pleasure of hearing Ohio Auditor David Yost announce in March that the embattled financial and academic system is no longer in state-mandated fiscal emergency. But Hathorn wasn’t around when the district was forced to follow the dictates of a special commission overseeing its finances — emergency was declared by the state in 2006 — which is why he should pay close attention to concerns about spending being voiced by members of the school board.

It isn’t about second-guessing the superintendent, who came to Youngstown from Akron and has moved boldly — with the board’s support — to change the way learning will occur in the urban school system. Board President Lock P. Beachum Sr., Anthony Catale, chairman of the finance committee, and their colleagues simply want Hathorn to be aware that Youngstown has been in fiscal emergency twice — the first time was in the 1990s — when he takes actions that carry a price tag.

Indeed, Beachum insisted recently that the board of education is not in the business of micromanaging the system, but he did stress that when decisions are made that cost money, parallel actions are necessary that cut spending.

“Keep in mind, I don’t want to go back into fiscal emergency a third time as a board member,” said Beachum, who has served since 1998. “I’m not going to do that.”

Catale, who joined the board in 2008, echoed those sentiments when he said, “We need to continue to look at other places besides academics to make cutbacks.”

The two members’ comments were made recently when the board unanimously approved the appointments of Douglas T. Hiscox and Richard A. Gozur as key members of Hathorn’s academic team. Hiscox, who has had extensive experience in public education, including a stint as assistant of Youngstown schools in the early 1990s, will be the deputy superintendent of academic affairs; Gozur, who served as principal of Campbell Memorial High School from 1994 until his retirement this year, will be principal of the redesigned Chaney School of the Visual and Performing Arts and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It will contain grades six through 12 starting this fall.

Jobless rate

We are confident that Hathorn would not have created the deputy superintendent position and brought in a new principal for Chaney if he did not believe the academic future of the district requires individuals of Hiscox’s and Gozur’s caliber. That said, the superintendent must bear in mind that such hirings in a city with an unemployment rate higher than the national average and a district that receives more state and federal money per student than just about every other district in Ohio are cause for concern.

That’s because the state fiscal oversight commission, which managed the system’s finances and helped the administration and board develop a five-year balanced budget, has said a renewal of the 9.5-mill operating levy that expires in 2013 is necessary.

Beachum has been most vocal about giving taxpayers a break, and it now appears that even if a renewal is sought it will not be for the 9.5 mills. That means less revenue for the treasury at a time of great state and national economic uncertainties.

To be sure, these are exciting times for the long-troubled Youngstown City School District, but the excitement should be tempered by economic caution.