December 22, 2014

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Groups target reduced state aid for schools

It’s hard to understand how city governments and public school districts are funded when budgets reach into the millions and decisions sometimes are made far from home.

A website recently was launched in an attempt to illustrate how public funding has changed in the last four years. The site is supported by Policy Matters Ohio and Innovation Ohio, two left-leaning research groups.

Locally, Keystone Superintendent Jay Arbaugh is leading the charge in letting voters know how decisions made in Columbus affect life in Lorain County and beyond.

“I have never had a parent in my 22 years of education come to me and say I want more kids in the classroom with my kid,” Arbaugh said.

Collectively, Lorain County school districts have lost $14.6 million in education funding in the past four years, and local governments across the county have lost another $33.8 million for a total of $48.4 million less coming into the area, according to data on the website.

The local government loss is based on several revenue streams including the local government fund, public library fund, casino revenues and the elimination of Tangible Personal Property (TPP), Public Utility Property (PUPT) and estate taxes. Education losses are based on state formula aid, tax reimbursements for TPP and PUPT, federal stimulus funds and casino revenues.

Thursday, Arbaugh was joined by several others on a regional conference call hosted by One Ohio Now, a coalition of nonprofit, labor and advocacy groups.

Keystone might return to voters in November in hopes of securing more local money to counterbalance what has been lost from the state. If the attempt fails, parents can expect more cuts — reductions their students will feel, Arbaugh said.

“Eliminating AP classes doesn’t benefit kids and increased class sizes are not beneficial to kids, but that’s where we are at,” he said.

Arbaugh was joined by Lima Mayor David Berger, Wendy Patton, senior project director for Policy Matters Ohio, and Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow with Innovation Ohio.

The last four years, under the administration of Gov. John Kasich, have seen systematic, deep and far-reaching cuts into their budgets, the advocates said.

The website shows how the “do more with less” mentality is not working. It includes updated data from the 2014-15 state budget, said Gavin DeVore Leonard, state director of One Ohio Now.

“Across the past four years, more than $515 million in cuts have come to education and $1.5 billion to local governments,” he said. “But more important is what the impact feels like and looks like in communities.”

Berger said the reduced revenue has created a new norm for Lima. “Based upon budgets being proposed, we are expected to live at reduced levels for years to come,” he said.

The $3 million Lima lost during that time could have provided the city with the income to fund 50 additional employees. Instead, Lima has reduced its ranks from 530 full-time employees to 360 employees. The city has closed two out of five fire stations, is short on police officers and firefighters, and Berger said he has no secretary or chief of staff.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.