PEPPER PIKE, Ohio – Orange Community Education and Recreation is facing a deficit of nearly $1 million, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, Orange Schools Treasurer Todd Puster told the Orange Board of Education Tuesday (Sept. 29).

As a result, cuts in OCER programming may be necessary, board member Melanie Weltman and Puster agreed.

OCER offers learning and recreation opportunities for preschoolers through senior adults in the Orange Schools community.

“Our goal with OCER is to break even,” Puster said. “In the past several years, we’ve been pretty close to that.”

But because of COVID-19, as of June 30, OCER had a deficit of $700,000, Puster said. That deficit is for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

“That’s because we’ve had to refund a huge amount of money due to cancellation of programs,” he said. “A lot of work in our office and in the recreation office this spring was related to issuing refunds to our patrons. It was the right thing to do, and we did it.”

OCER is looking at an estimated deficit of about $250,000 for the first quarter of 2020-21, which ended Wednesday (Sept. 30), Puster said. That’s in addition to the $700,000 that was lost in 2019-20.

“That’s just because we can’t get the programs at a normal level,” he said.

Jill Korsok, director of OCER, told the board that participation in fall programming is down about 78 percent from the fall of last year.

“Jill has been trying to be creative with programming, but there’s only so much you can do because recreation is really an in-person type of activity,” Puster said.

Puster said the district builds cash reserves for times like these, but that’s only a short-term solution.

“We’re just going to simply have to examine what we do, where we can manage our costs,” he said. “But really, until we can get back to a more normal situation, unfortunately we’re going to have to anticipate deficits.”

The meeting was held in person at the Pepper Pike Learning Center. But for health and safety reasons, the public was asked to follow the meeting online, via a live-stream on the district’s website, and Korsok took part remotely.

‘Tough decisions’ ahead

Weltman said, “If we can’t maintain programs, we might have to look at finding ways to cut costs.”

“Absolutely,” Puster said. “We can’t sustain deficits forever.”

Weltman said the board needs to start thinking about which programs can be continued and which ones cannot.

“If we have to make challenging decisions and recalibrate, we’re going to have to do that as a board,” she said. “That’s our unfortunate role in these times.”

Puster noted these decisions should be discussed “probably sooner than later.”

“These are tough decisions,” he said.

Superintendent Lynn Campbell said some of those discussions are under way.

“I had a meeting with Jill last week, and we had some of these conversations,” he said.

Board member Jeffrey Leikin said he recalled Korsok telling the board in March that OCER was headed for “a record year.” He asked her what those projections were in March.

“I think we would have been up more than $200,000, which is money that we take and put into that reserve (fund),” she said. “When we meet our revenue goals, anything that’s extra goes into the reserves.”

The deficit is “nobody’s fault,” Weltman said.

“It’s the fact that it’s hard to do these programs when you can’t be close together,” she said. “There are a lot of innovative and virtual programs, which I think are really great, and maybe now that things have settled down, people may take more of an interest in some of those.

“It’s so unfortunate. I know we have a lot of great things lined up usually in the fall, and it’s just sad and a shame that all the work that our team has put together has had to be put on hold.”

OCER is based at the Pepper Pike Learning Center on the Orange Schools campus, where many classes are offered, but it also uses other buildings on the campus.

“Our late fall and early winter programming will continue to be virtual when possible, with some additional small-group, in-person youth classes,” Korsok said. “Those would begin in November.”

Senior center may reopen Nov. 2

Korsok said OCER has been focused on training of staff and “the consistent application of our safety protocols” since it reopened in July with small-group summer camps. It remains open for both virtual and in-person small-group classes and activities, she said.

It had been forced to close on March 13 due to the pandemic.

The next step, she said, will be the reopening of the Orange Senior Center, at 32205 Chagrin Blvd., across the street from Orange High School.

Korsok noted Gov. Mike DeWine has authorized the reopening of senior centers, within certain guidelines, but “we don’t feel we’re ready for that,” she said. So a tentative reopening date has been set for Nov. 2.

“One of the things making that reopening a little more difficult is that staff members must be tested for COVID every other week,” she said.

“The cost of testing is covered by the state, but we’re not quite ready to undertake that yet. When we do, there will just be limited health and wellness programming offered.”

Korsok said some activities for senior citizens that OCER has been doing outdoors may move indoors when the center reopens.

“We have received a lot of positive feedback from our seniors,” she said. “The social aspect is very important – getting people out to be active is very important – and they’re relying on us right now for those services.

“But we recommend anybody, especially our senior adults, to speak with their health care provider before visiting the center or participating in any capacity.”

Trunk or Treat set for Oct. 30

Korsok said OCER’s Trunk of Treat event this year will feature a drive-in movie, “Hotel Transylvania,” from 7-9 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Pepper Pike Learning Center parking lot.

OCER has held Trunk or Treat as an alternative to Halloween for the past several years, but it will be much different this year due to the pandemic, Korsok noted.

Registration for the event reached its capacity of 100 vehicles on Sept. 24, she said.

“But we are looking for an alternate date to add a second night,” she said. “We’re working with the mayors (in the district) to avoid conflicting with any events they may be planning.”

A vendor holding a food license will package treats that will be handed out as vehicles check in, Korsok said.

Families will remain in their vehicles, or within their assigned spaces, during the movie so 6 feet of distance can be maintained, she said.

“While the state (face) mask order does not require mask usage outdoors if 6 feet of distance is maintained, we will encourage families to wear masks if they are outside their cars’ designated space,” she said.

Staff will wear face masks, maintain 6 feet of distance and use sanitizer, Korsok said. The Pepper Pike Police Department will assist with parking and traffic control.

“There are so many good things to say about it because Halloween this year for the kids won’t be what they expect, and this sounds like a fun night,” Weltman said. “I’m really happy to hear that we have a professional vendor handing out the food because I think that’s one of the challenges.”

Korsok said Oct. 31, also from 7-9 p.m., is being considered as a second night for the event.

“Maybe if the communities aren’t doing Halloween on Halloween night, that might actually be a really wonderful thing to do that evening,” Weltman said.


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