By DENISE GRANT

Staff Writer

Cross

VAN BUREN — Van Buren school officials blame Ohio lawmakers for creating a “business friendly” tax code at the expense of the schools’ tax base, but State Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) said he’d like an independent look at the district’s books.

On Thursday, Cross announced that he has asked state Auditor Keith Faber to conduct a performance audit of the school district. Cross said the state auditor’s office sets aside funds for the reviews. He said the school district, which is already financially burdened, would not have to pay for the audit.

“I believe a performance audit is necessary as the school district faces a projected $1.3 million deficit for the 2020 fiscal year, as well come fiscal year 2021, the deficit projection increases to $3.2 million,” says Cross.

“Transparency is important. By allowing the school district and taxpayers to see for themselves the results of this audit, simultaneously, it could result in the implementation of cost-saving measures for Van Buren schools,” said Cross. “As a supporter for our public schools, I only want the best for our students, teachers and parents in the 83rd District. I am also thankful for Auditor Faber for giving consideration for this important request.”

With a projected $1.3 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 2020, Van Buren Schools is on the state Education Department’s “precautionary financial watch” list.

Van Buren school board President Jim Griffith has said tax cuts for manufacturers have come at the expense of the schools. Business tax collections from Whirlpool, which have always been a mainstay in the school district, dropped about 50 percent 10 years ago, causing the school district to tighten up its budget. Without additional money, school officials now say large deficits are unavoidable.

School officials asked district voters last November to approve a 1 percent income tax to avoid deficits. Voters, by 56 percent to 44 percent, rejected it. That proposed tax will be on the ballot again in March, and a renewal levy will be on the ballot in November.

On Wednesday, the school board released a long list of cuts should either of the tax requests fail. The cuts would include either elimination or “pay to play” for most district co-curricular or extracurricular activities, along with teacher, administrator and other staff cuts.

The board also said it has submitted a plan to the state on how it would avoid the deficit. The board should learn in February whether the state Education Department has accepted the plan, and what actions will be required next. A copy of the plan will be posted on the district’s website once approved by the state, the board said.

On Thursday, Cross said should Faber agree to do the performance audit, he did not know how long it would take to get the results.

“This should be a helpful tool and a third-party validation,” Cross said. “This would be separate from any other audit mandated by the financial watch status.”

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