CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Ohio Auditor's Office is recommending that the Cuyahoga Falls school district cut at least 20 teachers and reduce employer health care costs to help save $5.5 million a year and avoid a projected deficit.
State auditors made the recommendations in a performance audit released Thursday.
“The district’s current financial trajectory obviously is unsustainable,” Auditor Dave Yost said in a prepared statement. “District leaders will have to make some very tough decisions to put the district back on a solid financial foundation.”
The district, which has about 4,800 students and 570 employees, is facing a $25 million deficit by 2023.
The district has been working with state auditors since the summer on the performance audit, which compared Cuyahoga Falls to other peer districts across the state such as Plain Local, Bowling Green, Lancaster, Barberton, Tallmadge, Niles and Garfield Heights.
The performance audit says the district should consider using money from the passage of a November 2017 emergency levy to avoid a deficit. The district had earmarked the money for capital improvements, technology, curriculum, human resources and contingency planning. The five-year emergency levy is projected to raise $3.6 million annually or $18 million.
Even after reallocating the levy funds, though, the district still will face a deficit and will need to reprioritize and cut spending, the report says.
The district could save nearly $2.6 million a year by “eliminating the equivalent of 31.5 full-time staff positions, including 20 general education teachers, as well as art, music and physical education teachers,” the audit says. The district has the equivalent of 250 full-time teachers, the report says.
The reductions would bring the district's staffing in line with peer districts, the report says.
The district also could save more than $1.5 million by reducing the employer cost of health insurance to the average for Summit County school districts. Auditors recommend the district seek to increase employee contributions and/or choose a less costly medical plan.
Even with these cuts, the district still would need to reduce spending by an annual average of more than $1.3 million. The audit provides several other options, including cutting an additional 16 teaching positions ($1.4 million), reducing overall staff by 6 percent ($1.4 million), freezing base and step pay for two years ($1.8 million), and no longer subsidizing extracurricular activities. ($812,000)
The Board of Education will begin discussing the recommendations Jan. 16 and the district will provide the Ohio Department of Education with a financial recovery plan, Superintendent Todd Nichols wrote in an email sent Thursday morning to the community.
“As we begin these discussions, our goal is to continue to provide our students with the best education possible within our financial limitations,” he wrote. “Together, we will address the forecasted deficit to insure our district is on solid financial footing in the years ahead. Until those discussions take place and direction is given, no immediate action will occur.”
The recommendations come on the heels of the district cutting 18 teachers, raising athletic and activity fees at the middle school and high school levels, and establishing a new technology fee of $30 per student last year.
“We've done an awful lot to reduce expenditures and improve revenue,” Nichols said in a brief telephone interview.
The Cuyahoga Falls Education Association, the union that represents the district's teachers, couldn't be reached Thursday for comment.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.