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APS District gets more bad financial news

9/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

DOWNTOWN AKRON — After closing three elementary schools and eliminating 84 teaching positions, along with about 60 other staff jobs, middle school sports and $4.6 million in nonpersonnel expenses so far in 2012 to try to balance its budget, the Akron Public Schools (APS) District has been dealt another severe financial blow.

APS Treasurer Jack Pierson told the APS Board of Education Sept. 24 the recent August county tax collection is bringing in $49 million, not the more than $52 million he had projected in last spring’s five-year forecast.

The $3.2 million shortfall in commercial/industrial taxes is a result of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) agreements the city of Akron has made through the years to get businesses to come to Akron.

TIFs are tax breaks designed to attract business that reduce revenue for the APS District, according to district officials. The TIFs must be approved by the state, and the state has had a backlog of the agreements to approve going back to 2007, Pierson said.

State officials recently approved Akron TIF agreements signed from 2007 through part of 2010, he said, so the tax money the county has been collecting during that time and giving to the district must be paid back to the city.

“Money that we thought was ours is now going to the city,” Pierson said.

The new $3.2 million shortfall comes after the district has cut $22 million in expenses in the first half of 2012 in an effort to balance its budget by the end of the fiscal year, this past June 30. School districts cannot operate with a deficit.

If Issue No. 61 — the district’s 7.9-mill operating levy on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot — passes, it will help for next year but will not produce enough revenue to avoid further cuts.

“We’ve said all along that we’d have to make extra cuts even if the levy passes,” said Jason Haas, board president. “Now with a $3.2 million shortfall, that’s $9 million more we’ll have to cut.”

Haas said it’s another downward pressure from the state government on the schools.

“We’ve tried to keep the cuts out of the classroom,” he said. “But we’re down to the bone now — it’s the only option left.”

In other business, board members voted to endorse Issue No. 73 on the November ballot. John Saros, executive director of the Summit County Children Services Board (CSB), addressed the board and explained the CSB levy is a renewal, not a new tax. Like the school board, Children Services works for children, he said.

Superintendent David James made a special presentation honoring Ann Gates for her 30 years of service to the APS. She retired in 1991.

James called her “a true trailblazer in the APS” and presented her with a plaque.

Gates, who said it was her 88th birthday that day, said she worked 26 years in the administration building, in seven different assignments.

“I really, really loved the APS,” she said.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway in Downtown Akron.

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