December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Local officials await governor’s school funding plan announcement

Every two years, educators in Ohio school districts wait to hear what the governor has to say about education and school funding.

Today will be no different when Gov. John Kasich publicly releases his school funding plan, which has been said by some to make good on the promises he made two years ago to radically shake up education in the state. But those pegged with the responsibility of living with Kasich’s edicts for the next two years were not told in advance of today’s speech and can only speculate as to its contents.

Kasich has held the details very close to the vest, although rumors have been swirling for weeks that a broader funding-follows-student component will be included.

There probably is no superintendent in Lorain County more on edge about what Kasich might propose than Midview’s John Kuhn. Midview has a levy on the ballot Tuesday, and its defeat will mean the loss of extras such as sports, music and the arts, as well as shortened school days and reduced busing. Kuhn will be one of several Lorain County superintendents making the journey today to Columbus.

“I’m not sure what to anticipate,” he said Wednesday. “I’m hopeful there will be a new funding formula for how our budgets are established. But I don’t think there will be a change in the way schools are funded on the overreliance on property taxes.”

Funding for Ohio schools has been ruled unconstitutional because it relies too heavily on property taxes, which penalizes students in the poorest districts. The result creates an uneven playing field in education based on the socioeconomics of a community.

But that years-long battle has gone nowhere. School officials only hope each year might be the year that a change is proposed.

“The governor and Legislature have to find some other way to fund schools without overrelying on property taxes. It’s time to modify the structure so there is some relief for the local taxpayer,” Elyria Schools Treasurer Fred Stephens said. “Real estate taxes can’t keep going up and up, because eventually there is a limit.”

Stephens and Superintendent Paul Rigda are deep into a $3 million reduction plan that will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Neither anticipate today’s announcement to be significant enough to keep the ax from falling in Elyria.

“No matter what happens with this budget, we are going to have to go through with the cuts,” Stephens said.

Still, with such drastic cuts on the horizon, Elyria officials know what they don’t want to hear.

“We wouldn’t want to hear that additional local money follows the charter and open-enrollment kids,” Stephens said. “Over $6 million is leaving because of open enrollment, and another $1.6 million is going to charter schools. If it wasn’t for that, we would be in good shape.”

State law allows state funding that a district would receive for a student to go with the student to charter schools and open enrollment.

The last time Kasich made a school funding announcement in 2011, it wasn’t received well by some districts in Lorain County.

Then, his biennial budget cut funding for more affluent districts, placing more of the responsibility of educating students on local taxpayers. Districts ranking lower on the state tests or in poorer areas saw smaller reductions or, in some cases, increases.

Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools Superintendent Will Folger said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“I’m hoping to hear we are not going to get cut,” he said. “But I don’t feel real confident things will get better at the state level for school funding.”

Kuhn said he hopes voters heading to the polls next week know the announcement will not be a cure-all for Midview.

“Our local community will have to continue to support us,” he said. “We don’t want people to think the governor’s new plan for delivering funds will change the school funding method, which is a portion from the state and a large portion from local tax revenue.”

Kasich will follow his school-funding announcement with his second general budget proposal for the next two years Monday.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.