MORRISTOWN - East Ohio school officials who cut staff and programs in the wake of state funding reductions in recent years say Gov. John Kasich's proposed school funding plan won't help their districts over the next two years.
Questions remained Wednesday among educators and legislators about the plan, with critics charging that many public schools, including poor districts, will be shortchanged even though the Republican insisted his proposal was focused on helping students. Kasich defended the plan during his State of the State speech Tuesday in Lima, saying it has a "common-sense" focus on helping those who don't have the resources to help themselves.
"The simple fact of the matter is we're going to have to work together to make sure that we are moving our resources to those districts that have unique students, that are not as wealthy, those districts that do not have the population; we've got to do it together because the current system is not serving the boys and girls in our state as effectively as we could be doing it," Kasich said.
But Union Local Superintendent Kirk Glasgow has said his district, which has seen a deficit in its general fund for a few years and cut $1.5 million from its budget, will see no funding increases in 2014-15.
"This was supposed to solve DeRolph," Glasgow said, referring to a 1997 state Supreme Court decision that ruled Ohio's reliance of property taxes to support its schools unconstitutional. "How does what he has done solve anything?"
Glasgow and Treasurer Janet Hissrich said several area educators who were on hand when Kasich was promoting his plan believed their districts would receive additional funding as a result of the plan.
In the local area, however, only Toronto and Steubenville city schools will see increases as the plan is currently structured.
"Everybody has cut so much," Glasgow added. "How could Bellaire (in state-declared fiscal emergency) not get a dime?"
Edison Local Superintendent Bill Beattie also was hoping his district would see additional funding after it failed on Feb. 5 to pass an operating levy. Beattie said the district is operating on the same levy value as in 1977 and has cut staff as far as it can.
"The budget recovery plan we presented if the levy were to fail was to close down Pleasant Hill Elementary and not to offer high school busing for students in grades 9-12," Beattie said.
Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said only a couple of the 33 school systems in his nine-county Senate district will benefit from the plan.
"The budget has sort of a similar theme to the education plan - those who have get more, while the have-nots won't see any additional support from their state," he said. "We didn't get a whole lot in the new budget - Edison will get no additional funds."
Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, said local schools face funding challenges in providing services for special needs students and in keeping student-to-teacher ratios low. Unless additional state support is provided, he expects districts to move more toward "pay-to-play" programs, fees for busing and other reductions in services and non-core curriculum courses.
He also noted that with increasing concern about school safety, costs to staff school buildings with armed officers may take a toll on school budgets.
"There's talk of putting an officer in each building," he said. "In Jefferson County ... there are 16 buildings - that's upwards of $1 million in one county. ... How can schools come up with the resources to protect the students when it's difficult to come up with the resources to teach them?"
Kasich repeated that the plan he unveiled last month is the latest state effort to resolve Ohio school funding inequities and help poor school districts and special needs students while adding $1.2 billion in funds over the next two years.