LORAIN — The Lorain school board president filed another public records request this week in an attempt to get information from the district’s administration.
In an email to Treasurer Josh Hill on Tuesday, Tony Dimacchia requested several records, including “financial data” surrounding what the board president described as a “$16 million surplus.”
This latest records request is one of many filed by Dimacchia, who has said he doesn’t feel as though the administration, especially CEO David Hardy, is being forthcoming about how resources are being utilized and how money is being spent.
Hill said the $16 million surplus actually was a misconception that formed at a board meeting late last month.
“There was nothing that was found,” he said. “I had (school board member) Bill Sturgill ask what our cash balance carryover was, and at the beginning of the year it was $16 million. I think those numbers got confused.”
Hill said the cash balance is not at all a surplus — it’s the amount of cash the district has on hand at any given time. The carryover is just what it’s referred to at the end of the year.
“So this year I forecasted we would have some deficit spending and a $15.8 million cash balance carryover into next year,” he said. “We actually ended up being $5.5 million better than my forecast, so we’re at an almost $21 million cash balance carryover.”
Hill said his forecasts are set up to detail the worse-case scenario often with an increase and spending and a flat line in revenue streams such as levies not being passed and with no increases in state funding.
“It’s not like we found $16 million,” he said. “Lord, I wish. It can be gone within a year. When you start deficit spending you dip into that cash balance.”
Hill said it’s important that the money in the cash balance not be considered a surplus because he doesn’t want that money to be viewed as “extra” while the school board isn’t willing to put a renewal levy on the ballot that would generate $3.1 million annually.
“That’s how they started to paint it in the board meeting, and I made sure to say, ‘Hold on, that’s not the case,’” he said. “It’s not like we found additional funds. Sixteen million when you start looking at the big picture isn’t that large of a carryover.”
According to Hill’s five-year forecast, the Lorain school district has an annual budget of more than $115 million.
Dimacchia said he understands the district doesn’t actually have a surplus but his question really revolves around how the administration is spending money.
“When we talked about finances, I want to know why the carryover increased,” he said. “I want to be able to see the differences in the finances so we can see where the carryover came from.”
Dimacchia also requested to “any and all communications” pertaining to “an email sent from the CEO’s attorney giving a legal opinion on our agenda and setting our agenda.”
This request stems from a board meeting last month where the school board tabled a motion, which was placed on the agenda by Hill, to put the renewal levy on the ballot in November before it expires at the end of 2019.
At the time, Dimacchia blamed Hardy for putting the measure on the agenda through Hill, who also serves as the district’s chief strategy and innovation officer.
“I was disappointed (Hardy) felt as though he was responsible for setting our agenda,” Dimacchia said. “Josh mentioned that there had been a legal opinion saying that he could, though, and I wanted to see that.”
Hill said he placed the motion on the agenda because, as the treasurer, he knows the district will need the funds from a renewal levy and he wanted to place it in front of the voters at the first opportunity.
“I ended up leaving it on there and they voted to table it and were kind of upset with me that I put it on there,” he said. “They’re referencing a letter, and there wasn’t necessarily a letter, but there was a discussion about with the CEO having the legal rights of a superintendent that he does have the authority to put things up for a vote of the board.”
Hill said there wasn’t necessarily a formal legal opinion written on the matter, but a conversation was had about what was able to be done.
“They took it as a legal opinion being given, and there wasn’t necessarily a legal opinion that was sought,” he said. “It was something we thought was in the best interest of the district. The opportunity was there to have the renewal. I don’t know there was ever a specific letter drawn up.”
Dimacchia also reiterated a request he made in April about the selection process for the district’s new turnaround principals as opposed to the traditional building principals.
“I just feel like they’ve given me what they wanted throughout this process and not what they’re required to give me,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Hill said that’s not the case and the distinction lies in the nature of Dimacchia’s request.
“There’s a difference between a records request and an information request,” he said. “For some of the things he’s asked for, there just aren’t those exact records.”
The Lorain school board is set to have its next meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in the Lorain High School Media Center, 2600 Ashland Ave.
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