November 23, 2014

Elyria
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Officials optimistic about school funding

Area school district leaders are cautiously optimistic about preliminary school funding numbers from Gov. John Kasich released Wednesday by the Office of Budget Management.

Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said he was pleased that Elyria would receive about $33.1 million next year, an increase of about $1.6 million, up 5 percent from the current year. It would receive about $35.1 million in 2015, a 6 percent bump.

However, with Elyria projecting a $3 million deficit after the failure of a November levy, Rigda said he still plans to announce roughly 60 layoffs next week. The district had to eliminate 52 positions last year to cut a $3 million deficit.

Kasich’s funding formula is designed to equalize school funding for richer and poorer districts, but Rigda said he’s uncertain how the formula works.

“It’s still hard to determine how this is leveling the playing field and how this is going to work out in the long run,” he said. “If this stays the way it is, we may not have to cut anymore after this year.”

Lorain Schools would receive about $68.5 million next year, up about $6.6 million from this year, a 10.6 percent hike. It would receive about $73.3 million in 2015, a nearly 7 percent increase.

About to go broke before a levy was passed in November, Lorain had to eliminate 182 positions last year and made major program cuts reducing about $7.3 million of a $12 million deficit. Approval for a $3 million loan was given by Board of Education members in December to avoid insolvency in the spring which would’ve triggered a state takeover.

If the preliminary numbers don’t decrease, Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker said he’d use the additional money for daily expenses and to restore elementary school art and music programs and bolster math and reading programs.

“Those aren’t promises,” he said. “Those are what I’d like to do if the numbers hold true.”

Avon Schools would receive about $4.9 million next year, up $2.4 million from this year, a nearly 99 percent increase. It would receive roughly $6.1 million in 2015, a 25 percent increase.

Avon Schools Treasurer Kent Zeman said he was pleasantly surprised because he expected the district might not receive an increase. Zeman said the increase will help make up for the approximately 2,000-student enrollment increase without additional funding since Zeman was hired in 2005.

Zeman said he respected that Kasich was seeking to balance the needs of poor districts with those of wealthier ones with growing enrollment.

“But being in this business for as long as I have, I still have a little bit of skepticism in me in regards to it going through the legislative process and the proposal as he has it making it to the final budget,” he said.

Given that the Republican Kasich has Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and State Senate, state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said she doesn’t think the numbers will change drastically. Manning, a member of the Education Committee and formerly its vice-chairwoman, said she was pleasantly surprised that Avon Lake Schools would receive $2.5 million next year, up about $1.1 million from this year, a nearly 85 percent hike. It would receive about $3.1 million in 2015, a 25 percent bump.

Avon Lake Superintendent Bob Scott said if the final numbers don’t change, it will help compensate for shrinking property values and the closing of the Genon power plant. The aging plant is the biggest polluter in Lorain County, but a major taxpayer in the district.

Scott said by next year, the district will have lost about $8 million in local and state taxpayer revenue since 2011.

“This is an excellent start and it’s definitely good news,” he said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nicols said his boss was unfairly criticized for about $1.8 billion in cuts to schools in Kasich’s 2011 biennial budget. He noted about $933 million in the cuts were because of the expiration of federal stimulus money and about $890 million was from the expiration of the Tangible Personal Property Tax, a state business tax.

“This is fully funded,” he said of Kasich’s proposal. “There’s no can kicking or pushing it off until tomorrow and rubbing your rabbit’s foot and hoping for sunnier days ahead.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.