MARTINS FERRY - The economy, coupled with a decrease in state funding from Columbus, has school districts across the Buckeye state scrambling to stay in the black.
The Bellaire School District, already forced to make massive cutbacks and layoffs, is still dealing with the aftermath of yet another defeat at the polls. Union Local is considering pay-to-participate for its athletic teams while Buckeye Local recently announced its closing a few school buildings, all in an effort to make up what figures to be a sizable shortfall.
Last year, the Martins Ferry School District's teacher's union approved a 5-percent pay cut and changes to its members' health care coverage to help close a gap and keep the district out of a fiscal conundrum with the state board of ed.
Now facing further funding shortages because of the proposed budget by Gov. John Kasich, the district is being proactive and trying to stay keep its 5-year forecast a pleasant one.
During Monday's meeting, board members approved 5-0 the district's Expenditure Reduction Plan. Its implementation is dependent on the Martins Ferry Education Association's voted approval of a few provisions. That vote reportedly is taking place this evening.
If it passes, Fitch believes the plan will keep the district above the water moving forward.
The 5-percent cut was originally agreed upon for two years. So the current 5-year plan will have that included for the first year.
Even without the cut for the following four school years, Fitch explained the reduction plan still saves a good portion.
"Without the 5-percent, we're still saving around $400,000 per year," Fitch explained. "That's a decent amount of money."
The plan calls for the district to curtail some of the services and amount of time it utilizes services from the county.
It also calls for the removal of eight positions; four teaching and four non-certified.
All but one of those positions will be removed with teacher and staff retirements. One teacher will be out of a job; one that Fitch said was unfortunate but added it was based on need and seniority.
Some administrative staff and non-certified personal will possibly see the number of days worked per week adjusted, depending on the position.
One the state's budget calls for less overall funding coming to districts, Fitch was happy to see it looks like the money set aside for the gifted programs will not be cut as once believed.
"Nothing is in stone yet," Fitch said. "But we were worried about the gifted program but we're getting some good feelings out of Columbus.
"It looks like it may go back to the way it was funded in 2009 so I think we're OK."
While the gifted program primarily is aimed at elementary and middle school students, those students go on to challenge themselves academically in the high school's advanced placement courses.
Cuts and adjustments aren't going to usher in a round of applause, especially by those adversely effected. But by being proactive, Martins Ferry may stave off making wholesale changes that are plaguing surrounding districts.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org