School funding changes ahead

COLUMBUS – Gov. John Kasich’s proposed school funding plan may be good news for a few local school districts, but bad news for most.

Under the governor’s school funding plan, which must be approved by the state Legislature, the Steubenville and Toronto city school districts and Jefferson County Joint-Vocational School District would each receive an increase in state money in the 2014 fiscal year, while the Buckeye Local, Edison Local, Indian Creek Local and Harrison Hills City school districts will not.

According to data provided by the governor’s office, Steubenville City Schools would receive about $11.3 million in state funds, an increase of 2.69 percent, while Toronto City Schools would receive $3.3 million, a 16.87 percent increase.

State funding would remain at about $8.3 million for Buckeye Local, about $6.8 million for Edison Local, about $7.6 million for Indian Creek and about $8.9 million for Harrison Hills.

Kasich earlier said no school districts would see a drop in state funding through his proposal, which is in response to a ruling by the Ohio State Supreme Court that the current funding formula is unequal and unconstitutional.

But Indian Creek Superintendent John Rocchi said he’s not sure Kasich’s plan corrects the problem.

“My immediate reaction, when you look at some of the districts that were funded, is what was the thinking process?” he said.

Rocchi noted questions have been raised about increased funding proposed for a number of urban school districts.

Rocchi said while state funding for the school district won’t drop, neither will the district’s expenses.

In a telephone press conference Thursday, Barbara Mattei-Smith, assistant policy director for education for the governor’s office, said the proposed changes reflect such factors as average property values and income levels for a district’s residents, the number of students enrolled and the number who are eligible for free and reduced lunches, have disabilities, are learning English as a second language or are categorized as gifted.

Mattei-Smith said the housing bust has had a greater impact on property values in urban areas, where enrollment has remained stable, while property values are relatively higher in suburban or rural areas where enrollment has dropped.

“Relative to where they (suburban or rural school districts) were in the past, they look wealthier,” she said.

“We are considered a rich poor district,” said Bill Beattie, superintendent of Edison Local, who said of the proposal, “It’s disappointing. It’s really disappointing.”

He said most residents of the district are seniors and there are many who are struggling financially.

Following the defeat of an operating levy Tuesday by a majority of voters, Edison officials have made plans to close Pleasant Hill Elementary School and drop busing for high school students.

Beattie said hope that the district would see an increase in state funding had offered “some light at the end of the tunnel.”

“If there’s any positive in this, it’s that we’re not losing any money,” he said.

Rocchi and Beattie said efforts have been made to curb spending in their school districts, and that has included staff supporting wage freezes for many years.

Of course, the news isn’t bleak for those districts that are targeted for increased funding.

“It’s great news for us,” said Fred Burns, Toronto superintendent of schools, who said if approved, the school district could receive about $500,000 in additional state funds.

Burns said the money would help to restore funds lost when property tax for local industries was replaced with a tax on the goods they produced in a nod by the state to the economic difficulties they have experienced.

Mike McVey, superintendent of Steubenville City Schools, said the school district could receive an additional $305,349, which would help to offset the loss of federal economic stimulus funds it had received.

But he said the plan hasn’t been approved yet, so no official plans will be made on spending the new money.

“These are preliminary figures. We’re going to live within our means,” McVey said.

Mattei-Smith said the figures also don’t include proposed funding for vocational and preschool programs and transportation, which will be presented to the state Legislature separately.

The Governor’s Office on 21st Century Education also has suggested allocating $300 million for an Innovation fund that would be used to award one-time grants to school districts that find creative ways to reduce expenses.

Richard Ross, the office’s director, said that could include school districts sharing online instructors to teach difficult to fill course offerings.