By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
Once considered the poster child for all that is wrong with school funding, Summit County's Springfield schools might emerge from fiscal emergency as an example of how districts successfully deal with declining revenue.
The state commission overseeing Springfield's finances is expected to announce the district is solvent by this fall or early winter, Superintendent Bill Stauffer said.
''We're excited we are going to come out of fiscal emergency without any new money. Our five-year forecast looks quite good without any additional money,'' Stauffer said.
The turnaround is a result of closing buildings, limiting busing for high school students and reducing the work force, he said.
''We were once the poorest of the poor. Now, we are one of the healthiest,'' Stauffer said.
The district, which the state placed in fiscal emergency in 2007, reduced expenditures by 19 percent from $28.6 million in 2008 to $23.2 million for the 2011 fiscal year.
What Springfield did
While school districts threaten to slash busing and implement pay-to-play extracurricular activities to gain leverage for passing levies, those measures could end up costing more than the district saves in the long run, Stauffer said.
When Springfield officials decided to reduce some of its busing, the district saved money and took half-empty buses off the streets, he said.
''We eliminated pay-to-play because we lost a lot of kids to other districts through open enrollment,'' he said.
In one year of restructuring, the district gained about $500,000 through the return of students who had fled the district under open enrollment, Springfield Treasurer Christopher Adams said.
Even the loss of funding projected in the state budget hasn't sidetracked the district's finances.
''I think what Bill has done is 'right-sized' the district for the number of students here,'' Adams said.
Springfield's enrollment is about 2,400.
Since the 2007-08 school year, the district has
lost 47 teaching positions and 56 nonteaching jobs and eliminated three administrators. It also shares one administrator with another district: Adams splits his time as treasurer with Mogadore schools.
By sharing a treasurer, both districts save $45,000 to $50,000 annually.
''With today's technology, there is no reason you can't work for both districts. Sometimes, I have the emails and books open for both,'' he said.
Adams credits his staff at both offices for giving him the ability to move between buildings. He tries to split his time equally between the two, but has the flexibility to work wherever he's needed, he said.
Springfield operates on five, five-year levies that have all been renewed in the past two years. Voters have not approved new operating funds since 2000.
''I made a pledge four years ago that we wouldn't go back for new money,'' Stauffer said.
Voters in the district have traditionally understood renewals, which is why his administration has asked them to renew levies rather than replace them to bring millage up to current property tax levels.
So far, the plan is working, he said.
''We're coming out of fiscal emergency, so the proof is in the pudding,'' Stauffer said.
The district ended last year with a $1.2 million balance and expects to end the 2011 fiscal year with about $3.6 million, he said.
Last year, 55 percent of the voters approved a bond issue to raise $33.7 million to replace three aging buildings with a $42 million school to serve grades 7-12. The bonds will cover 75 percent of the cost, with 25 percent coming from state funds.
Construction of the building, which will sit in front of the current high school, is expected to begin in September.
Bus garages will move to the former Boyer Kindergarten Center on Pickle Road next year. The administration office is expected to move from the main campus, but the location has not been decided, Adams said.
Students will remain in the old buildings until the new one is completed by the fall of 2013. Only a portion of the 1950s-era high school, holding an auditorium and band and weight rooms, will be torn down for construction of the new school this year. Demolition is scheduled after classes end this week.
Two other buildings, Roosevelt Elementary, constructed in 1928, and the old Central High School, constructed in 1931 and now housing eighth-grade classes, will be demolished after the new school is completed.
Roosevelt students will move to the newer Spring Hill Junior High School.
The buildings scheduled for demolition are considered some of the oldest schools in continuous use in Summit County.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.