WEST CHESTER, Ohio (AP) - One by one, the parents of Lakota Schools came down the auditorium steps to stand before the microphone. Some were dressed in business attire; shirt-and-tie, sport coats, dresses. Others were casual, in jeans and T-shirts.
All were unhappy about what is happening in one of Ohio's highest-rated school districts, as it deals with tough budget pressures that schools across the state are grappling with.
"We are cutting every student's ability to achieve his full potential," said longtime resident John Trygier.
Lakota Local School District superintendent Karen Mantia, left, and district treasurer Jenni Logan listen to Liberty Jr. High School principal Robb Vogelmann during a Feb. 13 school board meeting at Lakota East High School in Cincinnati.
"I wanted them to have the Lakota education I had," said Lisa Babcock, a mother of five. "Are you going to drive all the parents out of the school district?"
Sitting around a table at the front and facing an audience of hundreds on a Monday night in this northern Cincinnati suburb, school administrators and board members on the verbal firing line weren't happy, either.
"We have no choice," Karen Mantia, the superintendent, said repeatedly.
School officials had just laid out measures to slash $10.5 million, more than 6 percent, from the district's budget. That's 141 lost jobs, most of them teachers, one fewer class period a day, less instructional time and less art, music and physical education.
Such scenes are playing out around Ohio.
"It's becoming more and more common across the state, and across all types of districts, even districts with generally high levels of performance," said Damon Asbury, legislative director for the Ohio School Boards association.
A survey by the research group Policy Matters Ohio concluded that two of every three districts face shortfalls. From the biggest such as Cleveland and Cincinnati, to small ones such as Waterloo in in northeast Ohio and Monroe in southwest Ohio, school boards are hacking at their 2012-13 budgets, with hundreds of jobs already slated for elimination.
The state's school funding formula, reliant on property taxes and willingness of voters to approve levies, was declared unconstitutionally inequitable in 1997 by the Ohio Supreme Court. New approaches offered since by governors and legislators have fallen by the wayside. Gov. John Kasich has indicated he will tackle the contentious issue in the next year
While among issues with the formula is the gap in property values between wealthy and poor districts, the recession hit some suburban districts particularly hard. After years of double-digit enrollment growth that required building new schools and hiring more teachers, they abruptly ran into what former Little Miami Schools board president Kym Dunbar calls "a perfect storm" - slashed state funding, falling property values, pinched household budgets. That southwest Ohio district fell into a state-declared fiscal emergency and is trying to climb out after finally passing a levy last November. Voters had voters rejected eight earlier measures.
Lakota Schools, a 68-square-mile district be-tween Cincinnati and Middletown that includes House Speaker John Boehner's home and AK Steel's corporate headquarters, dates to 1957 and saw growth explode from fewer than 7,000 students three decades ago to some 18,000 today as the once-rural area along Interstate 75 took off.
"We saw valuations going up, up, up," said treasurer Jenni Logan. "And the same thing happens in reverse."
School revenues from real estate and business taxes fell more than $10 million while state funding dropped by $4 million. Cash reserves, federal stimulus money, pay freezes and cuts that took 82 positions last year bought some time, but voters have rejected three straight ballot issues. The latest in November would have added $145 a year in taxes for every $100,000 of home valuation.
David Humphrey, a longtime bus aide in the district, said it should have been more cautious with its spending years ago, in better times, "before reality set in."
"Everyone is concerned about their own well-being now," he said, saying his property's value fell $11,000 in six months. "That kind of wakes you up."
About a third of Ohio's 613 public school districts had levies in November, and state school boards officials say in recent years, it takes districts, on average, three times to win passage.