Education

Niles Schools Will Be Taken Off Fiscal Watch List

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HOWLAND, Ohio – Since 2003, Niles City Schools have been on the state auditor’s fiscal watch list because the district has operated with a debt that at times was forecast to run as high as $2.9 million.

But the school system will soon be removed from that list, superintendent Frank Danso announced Friday at the Good Morning, Howland and Niles breakfast.

“We are now able to apply to remove ourselves from the state fiscal watch list,” he said at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber event. “That’s because we are going to be in the black for the next five years. We’ve done some creative things with our spending and watched it very carefully.”

Among the cost-cutting measures, Danso said, are relocating the district offices to the Rhodes Elementary School and buying materials in bulk. Space in the schools is also being rented out for events to generate extra income.

“It’s been great work by our school board and the treasurer to do things that don’t harm our kids but still watch our spending carefully,” he said. “We’re finally moving in the right direction.”

Danso, superintendent three years, also reported that scores the students earn on the state proficiency exams are rising, a trend reflected in the $1.5 million in scholarships accepted by Niles McKinley High School seniors.

“[In the 2013-14 school year], our test scores were all increased. This year’s haven’t been released yet, so we can’t reply to those,” he said. “But our scores are going up because our teachers and students are working hard.”

Also speaking at the breakfast in the hangar of Ernie Hall Aviation Museum was Rick Clark, chairman of the Howland Township trustees, who updated the audience on several of the grants the township has received in the past year.

The top three, he said, are $400,000 from the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools to improve the intersection, sidewalks and signage near Howland Middle School; $215,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to improve infrastructure on Commonwealth Avenue NE; and a $38,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration to conduct a study on the area’s Golden Triangle.

“There are 30 companies operating there with almost 3,000 employees. And they’re using outdated infrastructure there,” Clark said. “This grant will help us identify and prioritize the improvement needed to help those companies continue to exist there.”

North River Road NE, Phoenix Road NE and Larchmont Avenue NE border the Golden Triangle area. Commonwealth Avenue is also part of the triangle. Clark added that Howland, Warren, the Trumbull County commissioners’ office and Trumbull County engineer’s office helped match the federal grant.

Several businesses have opened or are about to open – including Chick-Fil-A and Gander Mountain – the trustee added, and 11 new business permits are under review.

“Things are going well in Howland. It seems like we’re becoming a place that businesses want to locate to,” Clark said.

After the breakfast, the audience was given a tour of the museum that houses planes, signs, pictures and models of historic aircraft.

“It’s a wonderful addition to the community and does an excellent job in preserving an important part of Howland’s history,” Clark said. “My father, stepfather and uncles served in World War II, so I like to look at the material here about that. It’s probably my favorite part.”

Howland Local Schools superintendent Kevin Spicher said that while the population of the township has increased, the number of students enrolled has dropped to nearly half of what it was when Spicher graduated from the school 30 years ago.

Also hurting the district is a decrease in state funding. Chief among the disappearing sources is the tangible personal property tax, which was officially abolished in 2009 yet continued to reimburse schools in decreasing amounts. That income will disappear very soon, Spicher said.

“I need to let everyone know that there is a big picture. I’m excited for Howland schools and I know that there are incredible things that go on here,” he said. “We need a transformation and we have great people and great things in place.”

Playing a key role in the transformation, he continued, are the partnerships between the school district and local businesses.

The final speaker was Andy Catanzarite, Niles’ wastewater superintendent, who announced the city’s $32 million wastewater treatment plant project is in the design stage. Work is underway to obtain permits from the state Environmental Protection Agency. The last upgrade was in 1986.

“There are parts in the plant that are 40 or 50 years old,” he said. ”Those weren’t meant to last that long. And this is a proactive upgrade so we won’t be out-of-date again in five years.”

Pictured: Niles City Schools Superintendent Frank Danso addresses the Regional Chamber event.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.