The Youngstown Education Association has submitted its request to begin negotiations with the Youngstown City School District board and administrators ahead of the contract ending on June 30. 

Last year, the district was hit by a 25-day strike and eventually agreed to a one-year contract.

Now, contract talks are scheduled to begin just two months after a state audit revealed the school district would be financially broke in a few years.

In this 21 News Watchdog Report, our team takes a closer look at one of the key findings in that state audit listed - a so-called 'corner that the district' could cut to save funds.

That cut refers to the hiring of certain administrative positions by the YCSD.

In January, The Ohio State Auditor released a performance audit of the Youngstown City School District. In that audit, it pointed to an unusual hiring of certain administrative positions in the district compared to other districts.

It is important to note that hiring began in 2015 when the state of Ohio took over control of the district, giving complete power of the district to a CEO instead of the elected Board of Education.

In this report, we take a deeper look and comparison of two comparable school districts - Youngstown Schools to Warren City Schools.

Both have around 4,600 students, both have high poverty rates, both have similar crime issues, and even the state considers them 'peer districts,' meaning they have similar characteristics.

What sets these districts apart?

Youngstown has 57 Central Office Administrators, and Warren says it has 11.

The Youngstown District finances are forecast to be in a nearly $17 million deficit in just a few years. One item that could be contributing to the financial debt, noted by the audit, is the amount of money spent on administrative staff by the district.

Warren's Superintendent Steve Chiaro says having an administrative staff like Youngstown's would be counter-productive for Warren schools.

"It would have an adverse effect on the budget," Chiaro said.

"We wouldn't have that many individuals in that category of work because we have the division of work that is that is producing increased results, albeit slowly. But our results are going in the right direction," Chiaro added.

Contributing to Youngstown's administrative number are 29 Educational Administrative Specialists hired over the past decade. The district also refers to these positions as instructional coaches, which are to help the teachers with ways to educate the students.

The audit states the hiring of these specialists is "not a common position" and is not seen in similar districts.

The average salary of these positions within the Youngstown district is $74,000, according to the state of Ohio's employee data website. Based on the average, that means Youngstown has spent roughly $8-million dollars hiring dozens of these specialists over the past 9 years.

The Warren superintendent said they have no central administrators with this title. Akron, a district four times larger than Youngstown, has 6.

Youngstown's administration told 21 News that these "coaches help build skill sets" among teachers to drive achievement and "that these positions are funded by grants, Title funds, and through the general fund."

The state audit points out that between 2019 and 2022, the District increased the number of these instructional coaches, which consequently increased expenditures.

Warren's Superintendent says they do have 8 individuals hired to accomplish what appears to be similar goals. These individuals work with teachers and students to increase literacy but are not considered administration. They are licensed teachers earning a teacher's salary.

"It’s been a balance of always analyzing what positions are needed in the district, what positions can be merged or eliminated, trying to have the right staffing ratios with student ratios in the classroom, with students in the building, and trying to make sure we have enough coverage and support," Chiaro said.

Despite Youngstown's amount of coaches, the district ranks the second lowest in the state academically.
Youngstown's overall achievement rating has remained stagnant since 2015, now up one percent. In that same period, Warren scores have shown steady increases - up nearly 9.7 percent.

 21 News reached out to Youngstown Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor for an on-camera interview but did not hear back.

We did receive an email response from the district stating since adding these administrators, some areas on the recent state report card show increased performance could be on the horizon and noted that these coaches are part of its academic improvement plan.