Schools to cash in

Area schools are cashing out. Local school districts soon will receive the first payment of casino-tax revenue, with some districts set to take in more than $110,000, as announced recently by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

“It will help offset our deficit spending, even though we plan on being in the black at the end of the year,” said Douglas Hiscox, Deputy Superintendent of Youngstown City Schools.

The district will receive the highest payout in Trumbull and Mahoning counties at just more than $113,000.

Warren City Schools are set to receive nearly $110,500. Superintendent Michael Notar said the money will be placed into the general fund as a small boost against a $1.4 million funding loss over the last two years.

Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2009 authorizing casino operations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. The constitution set the tax rate at 33 percent of the casino operator’s gross casino revenue at each facility.

Three of the four casinos are in operation, with the fourth casino in Cincinnati set to open in March.

The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland reported a December revenue of more than $24 million; the Hollywood Casino in Toledo, $14 million; and the Hollywood Casino in Columbus, just less than $18 million.

Schools receive 34 percent of tax revenue generated by casino operations, which applies to gross casino revenue including money exchanged for the purchase of chips, tokens, tickets, electronic cards or other objects by casino patrons, less any winnings that are paid out.

Fifty-one percent of the revenue goes to the county government, but 34 percent is placed in the Gross Casino Revenue County Student Fund, where it is distributed based on public school student population within the district’s county.

Money is distributed quarterly on or before July 31, Oct. 31, Jan. 31 and April 30.

The total paid out to school districts in January will be $670,000 for Trumbull County and $722,600 for Mahoning County.

Labrae Superintendent Anthony Calderone said although the revenue is great to have, the payments in many cases represent 1 percent of districts’ revenues. In Labrae’s case, the revenue payment is a little more than $30,000.

“It does not solve the school funding crisis in Ohio … it hasn’t restored what counties, schools and townships have lost over the last several years,” he said.

Still, Calderone said the district is anticipating a bigger payment for the second half of the year, and they hope the state doesn’t decide to roll the money back in additional cuts.

“We don’t think that’s going to happen, but there’s always that chance,” he said.

The Austintown Local School District came in with the second-highest total at just under $113,000.

“We used some of those dollars to help recover our deficit that is coming in 2014,” Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said.

The district was hit with $2 million in cuts from state and federal money, he said, with more funding lost the previous year, and the casino revenue would only make up for a small portion of those cuts.

Colaluca said he also hopes the revenue will be additional funding and that the district’s state aid doesn’t get reduced as a result.

“We don’t 100 percent know that that money is going to be on top of what we normally get, but if it’s not a dollar amount that gets shuffled back into the budget. It will be a nice bonus for the school district,” he said.

“We are receiving money, but the district has been cut so much that it really is a small Band-Aid.”

Casino revenue to be paid out to county governments in January include $484,563 to Trumbull and $274,706 to Mahoning.