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More changes coming to Mt. Healthy Schools amid fiscal emergency

Mt. Healthy School Board meeting
Zack Carreon
Mt. Healthy School Board meeting

Parents and teachers packed the room during Mt. Healthy's School Board meeting on Monday night to express their concerns and frustration with the district's financial situation.

This year, the district was placed in a state of fiscal emergency by Ohio Auditor Keith Faber after discovering a projected budget deficit of $10.8 million. In response to the deficit, Mt. Healthy Schools announced plans in March to cut 80 positions, including nearly 70 teachers for the next school year.

Parents and teachers say the deficit and cuts shocked them. Now, more changes are on the way.

RELATED: Mt. Healthy Schools will make significant staff cuts at the end of this school year

During Monday's meeting, Mt. Healthy's board voted to approve a reconfiguration of its school buildings. The change will shift the district's 5th-grade students from an elementary school building to a junior high building shared with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. The district says the move will allow its facilities to operate more effectively and save money.

The change is one district leaders say they had to make considering the financial circumstances. Several parents and teachers spoke out against the move before the vote saying it would be damaging for the younger students and lead to even more disfunction.

Superintendent Valerie Hawkins says the move isn't one the district wanted to make, but the board had to approve it since it was recommended by the state which now controls Mt. Healthy's finances.

"This was not Valerie Hawkins' idea," the superintendent told the crowd. "This was something that came from the auditors and they wanted us to look at our building utilization, so that's why we're moving in that direction."

As Mt. Healthy works through the fiscal emergency, members of the school community still have questions about how the district ended up in this situation.

RELATED: Mt. Healthy Schools placed in a state of fiscal emergency

In November 2023, Treasurer Kimberly Hughes says while working with auditors to revise the district's financial forecast, a deficit of $5 million was discovered stemming from accounts that had negative balances from previous fiscal years. As auditors looked deeper into the school's finances, the deficit continued to grow ultimately leading the district to request the state place it in a state of fiscal emergency to eliminate the debt.

Hughes joined Mt. Healthy Schools in 2023 replacing the previous treasurer Rebecca Brooks who had been a part of the district for 35 years according to Mt. Healthy's website.

Now, the state is currently in the process of building a commission to develop a recovery plan for the school. State officials are in place but the board says the state is still looking for a parent from the district with financial expertise to be a part of the process. The position is unpaid and the recovery plan could take several years. The board says multiple parents within the district have been contacted to join the commission but so far no one has stepped up to fill the role.

With an uncertain future, board president Julie Turner says if the district can't get its money in order it could be at risk of disappearing altogether. That means the school system could close and all of its students and its debt will be absorbed by neighboring districts.

"There have been districts that have run out of money and been shut down," Turner said. "If you don't have money to pay your bills the landlord doesn't let you keep staying there. The grocery doesn't give you a line of credit forever, so we have to make some incredibly difficult cuts."

The board's next meeting is set for May 20.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.