September 19, 2014

Elyria
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House version of school funding bill significantly cuts aid to wealthier districts

On Tuesday, the Ohio House delivered its version of what public school funding should look like for the next two years and it is a dramatic change to the controversial proposal delivered in February by Gov. John Kasich.

The new proposal tweaks the state aid that districts would see and in some cases drastically cuts increases Kasich touted as the way to ensure that dollars follow a student. The main sticking point with Kasich’s plan was the distribution of dollars, which gave big bumps to seemingly wealthier districts while poorer and more rural districts were not rewarded as much.

Kasich’s plan included a $15 million increase to Olentangy Schools in Delaware County, one of the wealthiest and fastest growing counties in the state. The House’s proposal significantly brings that number down.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor remains committed to advancing his proposals and is encouraged by the progress so far.

In Lorain County, Avon Lake was a prime example of the difference between plans. Kasich sought to give the district an 86 percent increase in state funding, taking the district from $1.3 million in current funding to $2.5 million in 2014, a $1.2 million increase. The House has proposed reducing that number to a more modest 6 percent increase or roughly $100,000.
Superintendent Bob Scott said the constant numbers game in Columbus is typical for school funding.

“It’s school funding. It’s complicated and it’s confusing,” he said.

Avon Schools likely could attest to that sentiment. Under the plan unveiled Tuesday, it also will drop significantly in funding. Kasich’s plan gave the district a 94 percent increase, more than $2.4 million in additional money next year.
Scott said he often waits until the biennial budget before reacting.

“It’s even hard to tell now where we will end up,” he said. “We thought if we just ended up with zero change we’ll be fine,
so 6 percent is still more than we put into our five-year forecast.”

In Avon Lake, where state funding accounts for a small percentage of the district’s overall budget, Scott said he is more concerned with how the reports of changing numbers affects the electorate. On the upcoming May ballot, Avon Lake voters will see an 8.28-mill emergency 10-year levy.

“People hear the words ‘an extra $1 million’ and say, ‘Why do we have to pass a levy?’” Scott said. “Then, it’s not a million, but $100,000. You spend a lot of time trying to explain it’s a process that can change again in two or three months.”

A budget must be approved by June 30.

Beyond the two more affluent districts, most Lorain County school districts fared similarly under Kasich’s formula and the House’s version.

“We are feeling comfortable with what we are seeing so far as it pertains to Elyria,” Superintendent Paul Rigda said. “We are seeing that we are about the same to a little, possibly, better.”

Elyria under Kasich could see $1.6 million more in the first year and $1.8 million more under the House’s plan. If either version, or a similar one, turns out to be the budget that is signed into law, Rigda said Elyria finances could be stable for at least a few years.

“If the state does what they say they will do, the public passes the renewals we have coming up in November and May, and we don’t have anything come over the horizon that we can’t see right now, it seems like it will put us at 2017 or even 2018 before we have a problem again,” Rigda said. “But we need all of the pieces to come together and nothing to happen.”

According to comparison numbers compiled by The Plain Dealer, Lorain gains money but less than what Kasich had spelled out for the district. Superintendent Tom Tucker said Kasich’s formula worked better for Lorain.

“He looked at poverty, income, property values and what a mill raises in your community, and for that reason his plan was better for us,” Tucker said. “It kind of returns to an old part of funding that addresses those money issues.”

Tucker said he knows he is in the minority believing Kasich’s plan is better, but in Lorain, a district that is at the bottom 20 in property values in the state, it addresses the fact that a mill levied in Lorain does not generate as much money as in other districts.

“And, under that same idea, if we became a wealthier district, we would get less money,” he said. “But we are a long way from the end of this budget and we have to keep going and plan as if we don’t have it because that has happened in the past.”

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