© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cleveland City Council members question CMSD budget deficit, proposed cuts

Cleveland City Council seal
Natalia Garcia
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland City Council's seal. Council members during a Feb. 20, 2024, budget hearing questioned why the school district is facing such a large budget and raised concern about cuts being made to after-school programs.

Some Cleveland City Council members questioned why Cleveland Metropolitan School District is facing a $168 million deficit and how it's handling that deficit during a Tuesday hearing on the city's budget.

Councilmember Richard Starr suggested the district mismanaged its one-time federal pandemic relief funds - which run out in 2024 - and questioned how nobody caught the district's financial problems before it got to this point, singling out former CMSD CEO Eric Gordon and current CEO Warren Morgan.

"Where's the accountability? Who's getting fired? Who's getting fired for doing this to our kids?" Starr said.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb told council Tuesday he was in regular contact with CMSD since he took office in 2022. He said he was aware a deficit was coming prior to Morgan's arrival but didn't get a sense of how large it would be until after Morgan dug into the books.

"Dr. Morgan, as soon as he assumed the helm of CMSD, really uncovered that they were going to be facing a lot of fiscal challenges because the district prior to Dr. Morgan getting on board spent a lot of the COVID ESSER (federal relief) dollars that many school districts across the country received, they spent those dollars on one-time expenses and didn't have a long-term funding plan attached to those one-time expenses."

Morgan presented a plan to the CMSD Board of Education last week showing how the district will try to balance its books over the next two years, a plan which involved cutting all after-school programs run by external partners (although district-run extracurriculars and sports won't be touched).

Starr, who previously worked for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, said that those after-school programs keep students safe.

"It's disrespectful because you've got to understand a lot of our children don't have somebody waiting on them when they get out of school," he said.

Council members Kevin Conwell and Anthony Hairston also both raised concerns with the district using the $20 million gift from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to help plug its budget hole. That fund was initially meant to fund things the school district normally couldn't pay for with students helping decide how it could be used.

"That says, ‘What you wanted and what you say this money should be used for, does not matter,’" Hairston said. "That's the message that we're sending. We spent a $20 million one-time gift to fill a gap."

Morgan has argued that the money will still go toward improving students' academic outcomes and that the money was always part of the district's "general fund." Any attempt to pull it away now would mean an even larger deficit. The district didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Council members suggested asking Morgan to come before them to discuss how the district is handling the budget deficit.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.