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Federal Hocking School District plans to reduce deficit through turnover – Athens County Independent

Federal Hocking School District plans to reduce deficit through turnover – Athens County Independent

STEWART, Ohio – With a budget deficit projected for the 2024-25 fiscal year, the Federal Hocking Local Schools Board of Education will likely discuss additional budget cuts at its July 16 meeting.

The district has already eliminated five positions through attrition, effective July 1, based on a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Hocking Teachers Association. Superintendent David Hanning and FHTA co-president Tracy Keirns signed the memorandum of understanding on June 6, and the school board approved the agreement at its June 18 meeting.

The move is a step toward eliminating a projected budget deficit that county Treasurer Bruce Steenrod said will exceed $666,000 in fiscal year 2025. WOUB reported May 17 that the county could face a $1.66 million deficit by 2027 if it does not cut spending.

The memorandum of understanding calls for the elimination of a fifth-grade teacher at Amesville Elementary, a kindergarten teacher at Coolville Elementary, a physical education teacher at Federal Hocking Middle School, and a math teacher and technology position at Federal Hocking High School.

More than a dozen district students, staff and families voiced their concerns about the staff cuts at the board’s May 21 meeting. Those concerns included the loss of electives, the impact on popular staff and the high school internship program.

Federal Hocking High School Principal Jake Amlin confirmed that several electives will be eliminated this school year because teachers are retiring and positions cannot be filled. The eliminated courses include theater and career technology courses in information technology and digital design, Amlin said. He hopes students interested in those courses will get involved in the school’s theater club and take advantage of the school’s connection to the Tri-County Career Center.

The current administrative structure with its own principals at the district’s two elementary schools, the middle school and the high school will remain unchanged, according to statements made by the school board at its meeting on May 21.

Other positions created by retirements and layoffs would cost the district less because the new employees would have fewer years of service and therefore receive a lower starting salary, Steenrod said in an interview with the Independent.

“The salaries of current employees will not be cut,” Steenrod said.

Both the FHTA and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the district’s staff, have signed one-year contracts with the district. New contract negotiations will take place next summer.

Namita Waghray, AFSCME Region 8 communications director, said in an email that the union has not heard anything from the board about the cuts plan, nor have we received any written communication or plans outlining the upcoming budget.

“When we do that, our goal will be to work with the board as we have in the past. The district may be facing difficult challenges. We believe that if we address these challenges together, as we have in the past, we can find positive solutions,” Waghray said.

The Federal Hocking Teachers Association declined to provide an official statement on the MOU.

“I believe all schools in the district were affected by the 29 percent insurance increase – as were all staff. Otherwise, the district’s financial position is good,” former FHTA President Sonja Coble said in a text message.

According to a presentation by the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, the higher insurance premiums are the result of a nationwide increase in insurance costs caused by the insurance company itself. All schools in Athens County experienced an increase in insurance premiums.

Steenrod said the district’s current five-year forecast predicts deficits despite the memorandum of understanding in the last two years.

“There will have to be further savings in the future,” he said. These savings will probably also include the elimination of further positions; Steenrod mentioned in particular the loss of an assistant position.

But Hanning’s impending retirement, which takes effect July 31, means the district may “put the brakes on” deciding on further staff cuts until a new superintendent is in place, Steenrod said.

The board held a special meeting on July 9 to interview candidates for the superintendent position. A second special meeting — a so-called “work session” with the board, Steenrod and interim Superintendent Bruce Hoover — is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today, Thursday, July 11, in the high school library.

The Hocking Federal School Board meets every third Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 16, at 6 p.m. in the Federal Hocking High School library, 8461 SR 144, in Stewart. Find meeting minutes and more here on-line.