Thus it was on Nov. 27 at a meeting of the state Financial Planning and Supervision Commission that a resolution was passed
reflecting the decision by Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor to remove the Struthers School District from fiscal emergency.
In so doing, the commission, which was created more than 24 months ago to guide the system's economic recovery, put itself
out of business.
For two years and six months, the board of education and the administration made tough decisions about spending and the
overall operation of the district as they strove to erase the red ink in the budget, and develop a five-year blueprint that
reflects a positive bottom line.
But those actions alone would not have caused the emergency to be lifted. Voters in the Struthers School District deserve
to take a bow for passing a 6.9-mill operating levy in May 2006 — after it was defeated in November 2005.
The levy is generating $1.05 million a year.
"We're thrilled to be out of fiscal emergency," said Sheri Noble, school board president, during the meeting of the financial
planning commission. "The district has been working bare bones for quite some time and the board is looking forward to getting
back on track and improving our academic report card."
Noble's use of the word "bare bones" is appropriate, given that more than $1 million was slashed from the budget; 23 teaching
positions were eliminated. At the same time, enrollment was increased and savings were realized when the district refinanced
a loan used to build the middle school.
These and other actions were taken with the approval of the state commission.
But there was another factor that should be acknowledged: The involvement of Struthers pupils in the campaign for the levy.
They came up with the catchy logo "Got Pride?" for levy T-shirts and a billboard with the message, "Got Pride? We do."
Voters in the school district first needed to be convinced that the board of education and the administration had done
everything they could to cut costs, and then they needed reassurance that the money generated would not be squandered.
Thus today, with the state giving the district its freedom, the board and administration are looking to the future —
with a renewed sense of pride and a commitment to students and taxpayers.
But they also offer this cautionary note: All the work that has gone into restoring the district's fiscal stability will
be for naught if the 6.9-mill levy that was approved in May 2006 is not renewed in five years.
In that case, they had better make sure that nothing is done to violate the public's trust.
The other school district in the Valley that is in fiscal emergency is Youngstown, which is facing a $44.7 million deficit
after voters said no to a 9.5-mill levy in November.
As school board members and Superintendent Wendy Webb weigh their options — a return to the ballot is inevitable
— they might want to get some pointers from their counterparts in Struthers.