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School board wrestles ghost of Fred Fox

Alissa Widman Neese • May 24, 2013 at 8:00 AM

About a month into the Huron Schools legal battle, at least one board member believes a cost-effective compromise could be the best solution.

In an unexpected move Tuesday, board member John Caporini made a motion suggesting the district "seek a global settlement regarding the Fred Fox situation." The item, which board member Kevin Asher seconded, was not listed on the agenda. It was discussed as "other business" at the end of the meeting.

The financial integrity of Huron Schools sparked the motion, Caporini said Thursday.

"We need to move on and try to settle this," he said. "We don't need to go in with blinders on for a fight to the death, because the district will be the one to suffer. We need to keep our mind and eyes open."

Huron Schools is facing the aftermath of firing former superintendent Fred Fox in April. The decision came after more than a year of heated meetings and court proceedings costing the district more than $140,000. Caporini and Asher voted against Fox's firing.

Fox appealed the termination and is suing the three board members who voted to fire him: Donna Green, Tim Sowecke and Scott Slocum. He's seeking more than $175,000, in addition to back pay. Green alleged defamation and promptly filed a counterclaim, suing Fox for more than $25,000.

Caporini ultimately withdrew Tuesday's motion, however, after a lengthy discussion with board members. Just starting a conversation was enough progress for him, he said.

Slocum, the board's president, said Caporini should have first contacted the district's attorneys, and possibly Fox's attorney, before making the motion. Slocum and Sowecke said settlements could already be part of legal discussion. Slocum also said discussions of pending legal matters may be more appropriate for a closed-door meeting.

"I don't know if we're ready to use the word 'settlement' right now," Slocum said. "But we're open to all possibilities to try to move the district forward. I think we're on the same page with that."

As the district's finances continue to spiral downward, Caporini said a resolution can't come soon enough.

Treasurer Mike Weis presented an updated five-year financial forecast Tuesday to board members, projecting Huron Schools is set to spend all its reserve cash by 2015. The district is forecasting a deficit each year, ranging from $1.3 million in the current school year to $5.1 million in the 2016-17 school year. Its budget is about $15 million.

Several variables, including state funding changes, could alter the forecast, Weis said. Regardless, the district must place a new emergency operating levy on the budget within three years, possibly as early as November 2015.

"If we're going to ask taxpayers for help and they see all this turmoil, what do you think their response is going to be?" Caporini said. "I'm not naive. I know it will take time, but we have to at least make an effort to get this thing resolved for the taxpayers of Huron."

In the meantime, the board is in the process of certifying a five-year, 5.9-mill renewal operating levy for the November ballot. The levy generates about $900,000 a year for the district, costing the owner of a $100,000 home about $111, according to the Erie County auditor. If approved, it would not increase taxes from the total amount currently paid, which is about $1,520 each year.

Board president Scott Slocum did not return a phone message Thursday seeking comment.

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