Advice offered for Nc'town school district, community

Editor:

As a retired County Superintendent for Tuscarawas, Carroll and Harrison counties, I had the opportunity to work with 13 area school districts in a number of roles. I have at least some degree of familiarity with the operational philosophies of each of these districts. I worked with Newcomerstown's Mr. Staggs, as well as his predecessor, Mr. Branch. I have some thoughts regarding the current situation in Newcomerstown, and regarding current comments and discussions that I have read and heard.

Mr. Stagg's initial reaction following the failure of the recent tax levy was to express that a) the need was not going to go away, b) the district will continue to seek additional revenues from the taxpayers, and c) cuts will need to be made. Let's take a closer look at this.

"The need will not go away." The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is currently telling all districts to eliminate stimulus funding from future budgets because those funds are ending and they are not to be replaced. Stimulus funding has been a temporary band-aid for the entire U.S. economy, and it is largely responsible for keeping cash-strapped school districts like Newcomerstown afloat for the past two years. On top of this, ODE is now telling school treasurers to expect a 15 to 20 percent reduction in state funding. Adding these two reductions, area districts are looking at anywhere from a 20 to 25 percent reduction in state funding for next year. As a result, saying the need "won't go away" was probably an understatement. The need will most certainly grow.

"We will need to continue to seek further funding and we will need to make cuts." Just like a family, when you can't pay your bills, you really have only two choices. Make more money or reduce your spending. Newcomerstown must try to increase their revenue, but until that happens it will be forced to make spending reductions.

This brings us to the questions of where those cuts should be made. A recent letter to the editor in an area paper compared Newcomerstown to other IVC schools and came to the conclusion that the district over-spends in administration, so that's where the cuts should be. It is important to operate with accurate facts in these discussions, so I checked the ODE website (ode.state.oh.us) just to compare Newcomerstown to its fellow IVC schools. (Central Catholic is not included because ODE does not keep this data for non-public schools.) It is difficult to compare apples-to-apples because the IVC districts have such a wide range of sizes. Let's look at the administrative position of EMIS Coordinator. The EMIS Coordinator is responsible for collecting and supervising the computerizing of large volumes of data for every single student and staff member in the school district. To expect the workload for an EMIS Coordinator at Newcomerstown (1,133 students) to be equal to that of Conotton Valley (553 students) is therefore unrealistic. Typically, smaller districts have their EMIS people perform other functions as well. Despite not being one of the IVC's smaller districts, Newcomerstown's EMIS Coordinator has still been assigned the additional role of Federal Programs Coordinator, putting her in charge of meeting all federal mandates that result in hundreds of thousands of federal dollars that come into the district every year. So she already wears two fairly big hats. Regarding the general question of how much total money each district spends for administration, here is a ranking of IVC schools (shown in terms of percentage of the educational budget spent on administrators, ranked from least spent to the most spent): 1. Ridgewood, 9.9 percent; 2. East Holmes (Hiland), 11.9 percent; 3. Newcomerstown, 12.1 percent; 4. Sandy Valley, 12.4 percent; 5. Garaway, 13.3 percent; 6. Strasburg, 13.9 percent; 7, Brown (Malvern), 15.1 percent; and 8. Conotton Valley, 15.8 percent.

It is interesting to note that while all IVC schools spend a relatively small percentage of their educational budget on administrators, Newcomerstown is allocating the third lowest portion of their district educational budgets for administration. So they are already pretty frugal in that regard. All of this data is verifiable on the ODE website, by the way.

I've not sat in on their meetings, but my guess is that when the Newcomerstown district makes cuts, it will come from all areas including administrative costs. I do know that the district already made a significant administrative cut when they decided to not replace the Assistant Technology Coordinator. That means Newcomerstown now has just one person, the Technology Coordinator, in charge of hundreds of district computers and servers. The age-old question is always how much to cut and where. Unfortunately, sometimes districts reach a point where the cuts can have a negative impact on kids and education.

Newcomerstown isn't alone in this economic struggle. Many school districts are facing the same difficult decisions -- similar to the decisions that many families are also now facing. The sad part is that sometimes in life there simply is no "good answer," so we are forced to go with the "least bad" answer to our problems. More than ever before, the Newcomerstown school district needs the support of the community as the Superintendent and Board make the very difficult decisions facing them now and in the near future.

Robert Fogler

Retired County Superintendent of Schools

Strasburg