The Stark County Political Report has known about the rift between the Canton City Schools (CCS) and the Stark County Educational Service Center (ESC) for sometime on what yours truly labels as "the Allison matter" (Allison) over whether or not the ESC was going to be reimbursed for putting Canton superintendent of schools Adrian Allison's wife Krista on the ESC payroll in order to make her hiring and working at least indirectly for Adrian legal.
Last night in a contentious session, the CCS Board of Education voted 3 to 2 to reimburse the ESC some $237,000 for amounts paid to Allison's wife for her work for the CCS but as an employee of the ESC.
A significant aspect of the reimbursement is that it was approved "as a moral obligation."
The arrangement is somewhat like (in that there was no formal contractual arrangement) one between the cities of Alliance and Massillon with Stark County officials over the rate that the cities would be paying for the housing of prisoners at the Stark County jail in exchange for law enforcement officials getting behind a county levy effort.
The understanding was based on "verbal" assurances.
You have got to be kidding, no!
Government officials dealing with taxpayer dollars without formal, written agreements.
Administrative officials at the ESC need to address these questions posed by Stark County auditor Harold to the SCPR, to wit:
[P]erhaps also a question for the ESC Board on why they allowed this debt to grow so large? [over an two year or so span]
I have all the records and was told in February/March this would be addressed at/around the time Mr. Morgan retired.
And Mr. Nero's [ass't superintendent of CCS since July, 2014] comment about "just coming to our attention" is disingenuous at best.
Interestingly, the primary if not the entire origin of the controversial Allison spouse hiring came to the SCPR from either Harold (a one time candidate for a slot on the ESC board) and/or reports in The Repository and not spouse and ESC board member Mary.
So it is somewhat ironic that Harold, who is one of the chief critics of how former ESC superintendent Larry Morgan administered the Service Center, came within 249 votes of being one of Morgan's five bosses along with, of course, one Mary J. Olson.
Harold, who is currently #2 on the SCPR "Top 10 List" of effective Stark County elected officials, has since his election in 2012 been at odds with Morgan in his role as the ESC's chief administrator over the valuation of key Stark County real estate which is the fundamental base of revenues for Stark's 17 school districts.
One battle that stands out is the one written about by the SCPR which involved the valuation by the Stark County auditor's office of the Huntington Bank and adjacent properties on Market Avenue in downtown Canton purchased in recent years by a corporation by the name of Amerimar (prior blog LINK).
A repeated point of criticism of Morgan's managemetnt of the ESC by Harold (and other county officials) is the ESC's huge positive balance of about $100 millon carryover from year to year in the ESC's balance sheet.
Morgan, who manages the ESC's health care program in a manner which many think is "state of the art" and which the Ohio Department of Education has taken an interest in in emulating, says that the payouts for catastrophic medical events beneficiaries is the primary reason for the very large positive balance.
The SCPR does agree with Harold and others who criticize the $100 million plus balance in that there needs to be an audit by qualified financial people to determine whether or not that Morgan's point of actuarial responsibility dictates such a large carryover.
The is no doubt about it.
Compared to 1914 when the Stark ESC (then the county board of education), large amounts of federal/Ohio/Stark County tax dollars processing through the ESC annual budget in now the order of the day.
And by all means readers of this blog should read in its entirety (LINK) entire 2013-2014 SCESC Annual Report.
Let's pause just a moment and define "the Allison matter" which is high level expression of a process whereby the Stark ESC hires and pays for various educational officials to work in/for Stark's 17 school districts.
The ESC should be thought of as a resource center which - used to - provide many "free" educational services to Stark local and city school districts.
Such is no longer the case.
With State of Ohio education and local government reduced funding, ESCs across Ohio (including, of course, Stark County) are under increasing pressure to change their fiscal model to one where districts benefiting from ESC services now have to pay for them.
Which means, of course, that the Stark ESC could ill-afford to absorb an approximate $237,000 loss in funding the hire of Canton City Schools superintendent Adrian Allison's wife (Krista) from her job at the Ohio Department of Education from whence, naturally, her husband came when the CCS hired Adrian in November 2012.
And, nowadays, the SCPR has learned, ESCs across Ohio have to - according to a State of Ohio structural setup - compete with one on another for the business of individual school districts.
So such constitutes the chief reason that "the Allison matter" has become such a huge, huge, huge controversy.
Ohio law prohibits relatives working for relatives which made it dicey (from the perspective of many local observers) indeed when the decision was made by Morgan to recommend to the ESC board that ESC hire.
To the SCPR, the decision was beyond "dicey" and while complying with "the letter of the law" was in yours truly a violation of "the spirit of the law."
The Ohio General Assembly needs to pass legislation prohibiting "work-arounds" like these.
The SCPR has complained long, hard and frequently about how frequently relatives of key Stark County political subdivision elected officials show up on some other "of the same political party" elected officials payroll.
And yet prime Stark County Ohio General Assembly delegation members Slesnick, Hagan, Oelslager and Schuring have not lifted one finger to make work-arounds illegal as a matter of Ohio law.
After all, any one of them may going forward or perhaps in the past has needed a helping hand like that invoked in the Allision case and others that the SCPR has written about over the past eight years, no?
This phenomenon is one of a growing list of why day-in, day-out Stark Countians along with many other Ohioans and Americans find appeal in a simplistic Donald Trump-esque approach (i.e. fix things on my say so or the snap of my fingers) and are increasingly cynical about the motivations of all too many of our public officials.
The Report believes that there are other Stark County officialdom players other than Harold and Morgan and the ESC board in the political intrigue that envelops "the Allison matter" and the bigger picture of how Stark County local and city school districts are staffed.
And, to repeat, "the insider" problem appears to be systemic at all levels of the Stark County political subdivision level that ought to make the Stark County taxpayers to wince more than just a bit.
In "the Allison matter" in the SCPR's assessment is that "the other players" include:
- the CCS Board of Education(BOE),
- its treasurer Jeff Gruber,
- BOE president John Rinaldi, and
- candidates for the CCS BOE in November's election including, in particular and, perhaps, primarily former board member Eric Resnick
- SCPR Note: Resnick lost out in 2013 (SCPR Blog LINK) in a bitter political feud of an election to Rinaldi.
In ensuing parts of this series, the SCPR continues to unfold "the politics at play" in the operation of the CCS and other Stark County city and local school districts in relation to the Stark County Education Service Center and the staffing of those districts.