GENEVA — Geneva Area City Schools officials said Wednesday that the school board will look to consolidate three elementary schools into two buildings if its May 8 levy doesn’t pass.
The district has a 1.25 percent School District Income Tax on the ballot, but Geneva Area City Schools Superintendent Eric Kujala said with $5 million less in state funding since 2012, cuts are coming to the district regardless. The district submitted a financial plan to the Ohio Department of Education in December that contains $2.4 million in cuts that will be implemented regardless of the whether the levy passes. The first round of staff and transportation cuts came in January.
But the cuts could be even more drastic if the levy fails, he said.
“At this point the district is determining how deep the reductions will need to be,” Kujala said. “There will be reductions regardless of the outcome of the May 8 election.”
One cut that does hang in the balance, however, is an elementary school.
Kujala said if the levy fails it is likely Austinburg Elementary will be closed and Cork Elementary and Geneva Platt R. Spencer (GPS) Elementary will take their students. The move is expected to save the district about $925,000.
“This decision is being made mostly based on logistics,” Kujala said. “We would need to transport students to Cork and GPS, and State Route 534 provides a straight north/south path for our buses as they move students to those two schools and depart from our bus facility. In this way we’re able to divide Austinburg Township more efficiently to the two other buildings.”
He said from Austinburg Elementary to Cork Elementary is 6.4 miles and from Geneva Platt R. Spencer Elementary it is 7.6 miles.
“If the SDIT doesn’t pass and we need to consolidate, approximately 275 students would be relocated,” he said. “It’s not certain yet how many teachers would be affected.”
He said another reason for choosing to close Austinburg
Elementary if the levy fails is that it is the smallest elementary building with 20 to 25 fewer students than Cork.
Board of Education Member Richard Dana said it would be a shame if Austinburg Elementary had to be consolidated because it was a community school.
“We were requested to be community schools,” he said. “We were given the choice between community-style schools or campus-style schools, and we chose community style. Austinburg Elementary is in the heart of that community. But with the cuts we are facing, Austinburg could be consolidated into two other schools.”
Kujala said Austinburg fifth graders would not be absorbed into Geneva Middle School but rather go to either GPS or Cork.
“Also, this consolidation would not eliminate all Austinburg teachers, as some people have said,” he said. “Many positions will be eliminated, but there will also be a need to add some grade-level teachers and reassign them at both Cork and GPS to accommodate the larger grade level enrollments. If the need arises to close Austinburg Elementary, class sizes at the two other buildings will be larger than they have been in previous years.”
He said the Austinburg Elementary building will not be sold if the levy does not pass.
“We cannot sell the building,” he said. “If we could, we would owe money back to the state since it was built with state funds. At this time there are no plans for what would happen to the building. We hope we will not have to close it, but if we do we hope it ends up only being a temporary measure.”
The district expects to make staff cuts this spring even if the levy passes. However, because staff layoffs normally take place in April and the fate of the levy won’t be known then, the district has discussed the situation with the Geneva Area Teacher’s Association and modified the “contractual timelines since some reductions, like closing Austinburg Elementary, are contingent on the levy passing.”
Kujala also said they have tried to keep information private and haven’t identified specific names “but instead listed the reductions by positions.”
He said employees whose contracts will be suspended will be notified in writing
prior to the April 18 board of education meeting and the board will take its first official action on the reductions at the meeting. Because it will be unknown if Austinburg will close prior to the election, a special meeting will be May 10 to determine the exact number of positions that will be affected.
Geneva Area City School Board President Ed Brashear said
he was hopeful elementary school consolidation and other drastic cuts will not be necessary.
He said he supported the efforts of the “I Support the Geneva Schools Committee,” which is campaigning in support of the levy.
“With a strong, grass roots committee involved in passing the SDIT, we’re making progress,” he said. “More and more citizens are getting behind the levy. I’m now convinced it will pass and we won’t have to make these more drastic cuts.”
Dana said it was
for local citizens to express their concerns about school budget cuts to state and
federal officials because it was essential to support local community services.
“Austinburg is a rural community
and its community
services need to be
preserved,” he said.
“I’m hopeful the SDIT passes and deep cuts like this are not necessary.”