Garrettsville – Over the summer the State of Ohio Auditor’s Office conducted a Performance Audit on our district. While we will get into the details in this article, there were two main points we gleaned from the audit. First, our district is running at an extremely lean level. There were no findings of frivolous spending or areas where we were staffed outside of comparable districts. Second, while the Auditor’s Office cannot recommend a levy, it is clear that the James A. Garfield Schools will be on the ballot in 2018, which is the first time the district has had to ask for more money since 2004.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with former Superintendent Mr. Klamer for a number of days before transitioning into the new position. In these meetings Mr. Klamer shared the 2013 forecast with me and stressed that one area of focus would be going to the public for new money the following year. Now it is nearly 2018, five years later, and we have stretched our funds. By writing grants and organizing fundraising efforts we have been able to make our district a better place without asking the taxpayers to vote on a new levy since 2004.
In just five years the district has made advancements in teaching and learning as well as updating our facilities for students.
Straight A Grant
In the fall of 2013 we received a grant from the Straight A Fund titled, “Campus of Excellence” to consolidate our students to one campus, update our technology and bring a community partner to the area (YMCA). A Building Oversight Committee met each month to help design the new wing. The $5 million dollar grant saved Garfield enough money to stay off the ballot by consolidating staff and operations to one campus. It also brought us the new wing at the elementary and a community space called the Professional Development Center that is used by dozens of community groups for functions at no charge.
With the savings from the consolidation and funds from the Straight A Grant we have become one of the technology leaders in Portage County. Every student in grades 6-12 has their own laptop for learning and teachers have access to a number of tools that allow for learning anywhere, anytime.
In the spring of 2014 the Stadium Committee was formed to utilize fundraising to update our athletic facilities. In just three years the committee was able to raise funds that would significantly improve our stadium. New goal posts, updated visitor seating, new fencing, handicap accessible home bleachers and a press box were installed. Our community can be proud of these facilities and they were updated because of donations at great events such as the annual Night at the Races, Fall Clambake and help from the Queen of Hearts 50/50 drawing.
In the fall of 2016 the district explored a refinance option for the bond issue that was passed to complete construction/renovations in 2000. With a very strong credit review we were able to secure a much lower rate and pass this savings along to taxpayers, lowering the taxes of each taxpayer in the district through the year 2024.
One way we have been able to stretch your tax dollars is by investing in energy efficiencies. LED lighting, water saving fixtures and motion sensors for lights in high use areas should allow us to save funds on our energy bills. High efficiency windows replaced the original windows from 1956 on the front of our high school to make classrooms more comfortable while lowering our heating bills.
In closing, the audit told us what we would need to do if we don’t find additional revenue. The cuts the audit suggested are draconian at best. If we implemented these recommendations we would be taking a giant step backwards, resulting in a place that we do not feel our community, staff or kids would accept. We have worked hard to create a district of excellence, and we want to keep it that way.
We have not asked for new money since 2004 and amazing things have happened and continue to happen at James A Garfield because of our kids, staff and community. If we want that to continue it does NOT happen by going to larger class sizes or state minimum course offerings for our kids.
In the coming months we will be exploring ways to get others involved in the efforts to pass a levy in 2018. James A. Garfield is a district of excellence, and we look forward to continuing on that journey.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly at the office (330.527.4336) on my cell (216.534.7413) or by email ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).