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Published: Friday, 7/16/2004

State draws up plan for Swanton schools

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SWANTON - The Swanton Local School District could save an average of more than $384,000 per year through the 2007-08 school year if recommendations made by the state auditor's office are implemented, according to a report issued yesterday.

Recommendations, which included limiting salary increases and reducing health benefits for school employees, were made as part of a performance audit initiated after the Ohio Department of Education placed the district in fiscal caution last fall. That was done after the district predicted a general fund deficit of more than $1.2 million for fiscal year 2002-03 and about $2.3 million for fiscal year 2003-04.

Swanton school officials have already taken a number of steps to address financial concerns, said Joe Case, a spokesman for state Auditor Betty Montgomery. Some of those steps, including reducing the projected deficit, were outlined in the state auditor's report.

To help offset the deficit, the Swanton school board earlier this year borrowed $1.1 million against anticipated revenue from an income tax issue approved by voters in March. To further reduce the deficit, school officials obtained a $212,000 state grant. Last year, bus transportation for high school students was cut, and more than 20 teaching posi-

tions were eliminated.

The performance audit assessed the district's financial systems, human resources, facilities, and transportation functions. Recommendations made following that review are realistic, and if implemented, can further improve the district's financial situation, Mr. Case said. He added that the hope is that school leaders and citizens in the community will review the report and that it spurs dialogue that will move the district forward.

Swanton Superintendent Kevin McQuade pointed out that most of the report's cost-saving recommendations involve items that are subject to negotiations, such as salaries and health insurance. School officials, he said, are in contract negotiations with the district's three labor unions. Economic issues are among those under negotiations, he said.

According to the state auditor's report, the district could save about $270,000 in fiscal year 2005-06 by limiting salary increases; reducing key health benefits; requiring 10 percent employee share of premiums, and reducing the hours of bus drivers. That figure would increase to $538,000 in savings in fiscal year 2007-08, according to the report. The report notes that those recommendations involve items that are subject to negotiation.

Several cost-saving recommendations outlined by the state auditor's office already have been implemented, Mr. McQuade said, such as reducing energy costs and eliminating the part-time printer position in the central copy room.

"The district has done a lot already to save dollars," the superintendent said. "The state is giving us other areas for possible future savings."

Bill Green, school board president, said school officials already have taken steps to address many of the items outlined in the report.

"We're pretty much in agreement with what the state auditor is saying," said Mr. Green, adding that school officials have reviewed the recommendations.

"We've done most of it already," he said, while other recommended items are being discussed as part of ongoing negotiations with union members.

Contact Janet Romaker at:

jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006



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