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(Yi-Ke Peng/WOUB)

Superintendent Speaks Out About Athens Schools Budget

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The superintendent of a local school reached out to parents about the schools financial situation, saying things are getting “worse each year.”

The letter was in response to an article in the Athens Messenger, which reported a reduction of 16 Athens City Schools positions last year, while still seeing $1.5 million in deficit spending.

Gibbs told the district at Thursday’s board meeting that changes in state teacher retirement lead teachers to stay at their jobs for a longer amount of time.

“What this means for the district is that we won’t have as many people retiring each year, making it difficult to rely on decreasing teachers” through increasing workloads, Gibbs wrote.

The superintendent also said at Thursday’s meeting that he hopes more resignations and retirements will be coming, and predicted more staffing cuts in the future, according to the Messenger article.

“In short, we are spending significantly more money than we bring in,” Gibbs said in his Monday morning letter. “This has been happening for a few years and is getting worse each year.”

Gibbs said within three years, the district will no longer have a positive cash balance to cover the difference in spending and revenue.

Decreases in state funding and “only minor growth” in total local tax revenue were cited by Gibbs as reasons for slow and backwards growth with the schools.  He also said minimal cost of living increases and reigning in of insurance costs have not helped stem the flow of money out of the district.

“Our operations rely heavily on personnel, which make up the majority of our expenses,” Gibbs wrote. “Technology, buses, and building repairs are paid in large part by ‘permanent improvement’ funds that cannot be used for personnel.”

Not only does the personnel play a role in the school’s fight for funding, Gibbs stated, but also students taking classes outside of Athens High School. The superintendent cited post-secondary enrollment options and College Credit Plus among the options taking students away from the high school campus.

“If the students are taking classes at places other than Athens High School, some of our class sizes for courses we are currently offering become very small…in some cases less than 10 students,” the email stated.

In the last school year, 65 students took post-secondary classes at Ohio University or Hocking College, according to statistics provided by Gibbs. In the current year, more than 135 students are taking off-campus classes.

“We expect this number to grow next year,” Gibbs wrote. “With the students goes money to pay for the courses.”

The conclusion of the superintendent’s statement included a message to the community, asking for their help.

“I’ve been disappointed this weekend to learn that, instead of focusing on the issue(s) at hand, some people are choosing to take to social media in a negative fashion,” Gibbs stated.

He emphasized that the school district did not have a “hidden agenda,” but that they were attempting to find the right solution for the district.

“The agenda is a balanced budget,” he wrote. “The agenda is to offer the best we can for our children with a level of taxes we can all afford.”

Gibbs said it is up to the board to decide what happens next, but if he is directed to recommend further reductions in staff, “I will do so in a manner that I believe to have the least negative impact on the education we offer our students.”

He also asked that community member provide input on the future of the district.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 19 at Athens High School.