Mad River schools plans to cut 14 teaching jobs

Mad River Middle School students load onto the buses after the first day of school Sept. 8, 2020. Jim Noelker/Staff

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Mad River Middle School students load onto the buses after the first day of school Sept. 8, 2020. Jim Noelker/Staff

Mad River schools are planning to cut 14 teaching positions due to what the school district says is a budget shortfall expected to get worse in the next few years.

“In order to balance the budget and avoid using up its cash reserves, the district had to make cuts and staff reductions for the 2021-2022 school year,” Jenny Alexander, a spokesman for the district, said in an email.

Alexander said the district originally planned to cut 21 teaching positions. However, six or seven jobs will be retained using federal funds.

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In addition to the teaching jobs, according to a reduction plan submitted to the state, the district also will reduce 10 non-teaching positions, half of an administrative position, one coach and reduce spending on supplies and buses in fiscal year 2022.

The Mad River teacher’s union at a board meeting last week questioned the need for cuts and pointing out that after this past year, students will need help catching up academically and emotionally. The teachers argued cutting staff did not make sense during this time.

“We need to tune into our kids, see how to best meet their needs and make sure that we’re ready to marshal resources quickly to intervene quickly so we can best support our kids,” said Amy Holbrook, president of the Mad River Education Association. “And so that’s going to be challenging to do if we don’t have the staffing to do that.”

The district will also receive $196,050 in restored state foundation funding in fiscal year 2021, according to the plan.

Mad River can use some grants to pay for salaries, benefits, equipment and supplies, which will save more than $4 million, according to the plan.

In Mad River’s five-year forecast from last November, the district projected a $12.9 million cash balance for the end of the 2020-21 school year, despite being $4.19 million in the red for this year.

But the same forecast also shows the district outspending its revenues by more than $7 million each of the next two years, which would bankrupt the district.

An updated five-year forecast was not yet available from Mad River.

“The Mad River School District’s expenses have been exceeding revenues for the last several years causing the district to spend down its cash reserves,” Alexander said. “This annual shortfall is projected to get even worse in future years.”

She said Mad River relies heavily on state funding.

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The school district was allocated $10.4 million from the federal government from the second and third stimulus packages.

The funds will be used to add six teaching positions to implement the Learning Recovery Plan and cover losses in the school lunch fund, the district said. The remainder will be used to retain existing staff.

Alexander said federal funds and increases in state funding, which are expected from the state legislature this summer, were part of the district’s plan to balance the books.

In addition to budget woes, the district also cited enrollment as a reason to cut the number of staff.

Mad River’s enrollment has dropped in the past year by about 6.5% according to the district -- from 3,726 at the October 2019 count, to 3,534 in fall 2020, to current K-12 attendance of 3,483.

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The district said enrollment had fallen across the board. Kindergarten enrollment declined 7.5% compared to overall drop of 6.5%.

Enrollment has fallen statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott Huddle, a Riverside school board member and president of the Ohio School Boards Association, said Riverside’s decline in enrollment seemed close to what other districts across the state are seeing.

“Everybody’s dealing with, where did the students go?” he said.

Holbrook said the union is continuing discussions with the administration about funding. Union contract negotiations begin next week.

Further details about the cuts are expected at the May school board meeting.

Staff writer Jeremy P. Kelley contributed to this report.

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