November 22, 2014

Elyria
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Districts worried ballot issue creates school inequality

COLUMBUS — Supporters of a proposed ballot issue that aims to fix Ohio’s unconstitutional school funding system are getting mixed reactions from the state’s 614 public districts.
A coalition of teachers unions and other education groups pushing the measure took some heat at a recent presentation to school board officials in Worthington, a wealthier suburb of Columbus.
Board members were deeply divided over how the issue would resolve inequities between rich and poor districts.
“We can worry about kids across the state, but our obligation is to kids in Worthington,” said board member Marc Schare. “This amendment will give people in other parts of the state the right to pick the pockets of Worthington taxpayers.”
It wasn’t the reaction that Jim Betts, spokesman for Getting It Right for Ohio’s Future, wanted, but he was ready with a response.
“We can no longer afford to have a quality district in Worthington and lousy ones among the 30 or 40 districts in southeast Ohio,” he said.
About 90 school boards have adopted resolutions to support the coalition’s proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution.
The proposed amendment would declare a high-quality public education a fundamental right of every Ohio child and gradually reduce the local share of expenses for schools and increase the state share. Supporters need to collect 402,276 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 8 to put the issue on the November ballot.
The Ohio Supreme Court first declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional in 1997, saying a heavy reliance on the local tax base created inequality between districts because a poor district couldn’t raise as much money as a wealthy one.
The court ruled on the case three more times, then ended its jurisdiction in 2002.
Gov. Ted Strickland, who took office in January, has said he opposes the proposed ballot issue, saying it is vaguely worded. He said he needs time to develop a school funding plan that will be acceptable to the Republican Legislature, teachers’ unions, businesses and others.
The ballot issue has found support in other parts of suburban Columbus. School boards in Hilliard, South-Western and Whitehall have endorsed the measure. Others, mostly wealthier districts such as Bexley, Westerville and Worthington, are withholding support.
Cindy Hartman, superintendent of Southern Local Schools in Perry County, said the take-care-of-yourself attitude is disappointing.
“Educators have a responsibility to represent all children. Yes, we all have individual responsibilities to the district in which we work, but education is about all children, regardless of where they live,” Hartman said.