Bad News Ahead For Most Districts

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s proposed school funding plan may be good news for a few local school districts, but it’s bad news for most.

Under the governor’s school funding plan, which must be approved by the state legislature before taking effect, the Steubenville and Toronto city school districts and Jefferson County Joint-Vocational School District each would receive an increase in state money in fiscal 2014, while the Buckeye Local, Edison Local, Indian Creek Local and Harrison Hills City school districts will not.

The outlook is no better in Belmont and Monroe counties, where all school districts will remain at current levels of state funding.

According to data provided by the governor’s office, Steubenville City Schools would receive about $11.3 million in state funds, an increase of 2.69 percent, while Toronto City Schools would receive $3.3 million, a 16.87-percent increase.

State funding would remain at about $8.3 million for Buckeye Local, about $6.8 million for Edison Local, about $7.6 million for Indian Creek and about $8.9 million for Harrison Hills.

Kasich earlier said no school districts would see a drop in state funding through his proposal, which is a response to a ruling by the Ohio State Supreme Court that the current funding formula is inequitable and unconstitutional. But Indian Creek Superintendent John Rocchi said he’s not sure Kasich’s plan corrects the problem.

“My immediate reaction, when you look at some of the districts that were funded, is what was the thinking process?” he said.

Rocchi noted questions have been raised about increased funding proposed for a number of urban school districts. Rocchi said while state funding for his district won’t drop, neither will the district’s expenses.

In a teleconference Thursday, Barbara Mattei-Smith, assistant policy director for education for the governor’s office, said the proposed changes reflect such factors as average property values and income levels for a district’s residents, the number of students enrolled and the number who are eligible for free and reduced lunches, have disabilities, are learning English as a second language or are categorized as gifted.

Mattei-Smith said the housing bust has had a greater impact on property values in urban areas, where enrollment has remained stable, while property values are relatively higher in suburban or rural areas where enrollment has dropped.

“Relative to where they (suburban or rural school districts) were in the past, they look wealthier,” she said.

“We are considered a rich-poor district,” said Bill Beattie, superintendent of Edison Local. He termed the proposal “really disappointing.”

Following the defeat of an operating levy Tuesday by a majority of voters, Edison officials have made plans to close Pleasant Hill Elementary School and discontinue busing for high school students. Beattie said he had hoped the district would see an increase in state funding, which would have been “some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Of course, the news isn’t bleak for the districts targeted for increased funding.

“It’s great news for us,” said Fred Burns, Toronto superintendent of schools. If the plan is approved, the school district could receive about $500,000 in additional state funds.

Burns said the money would help to restore funds lost when property tax for local industries was replaced with a tax on the goods they produced in a nod by the state to the economic difficulties they have experienced.

Mike McVey, superintendent of Steubenville City Schools, said his school district could receive an additional $305,349, which would help to offset the loss of federal economic stimulus funds it had received. But he said the plan hasn’t been approved yet, so no official plans will be made on spending the new money.