Schools respond to state budget

CHAMPION – School officials are speculating what Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula will mean for their districts.

No district would face cuts in the second year of the plan. However, the district funding breakdowns released Wednesday by the state are garnering mixed reactions.

“We’re at zero,” said Champion Superintendent Pamela Hood, whose district is slated to receive $5.7 million both in fiscal year 2013 – beginning July 1 – and 2014.

“We’re getting nothing,” she said. ”We’re suffering close to a million dollars in cuts for close to two years, and we expect to see loss in other areas. We are very anxious about what this loss of funding is going to mean to us two years out.”

Warren City Schools is set to receive about $40.86 million for fiscal year 2013 and $45.43 million in 2014, an 11.2 percent increase in the second year.

Superintendent Michael Notar said the board plans to sit down next week and go over the budget information.

“We really haven’t digested it yet,” he said. The figures appear to be an increase over this year, he said, but they won’t know for sure until they crunch the numbers.

Barb Mattei-Smith, assistant policy director for education in the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Learning, took some time Thursday to explain some of the figures on the spreadsheets during a press call.

“I think there’s been some confusion as to what those spreadsheets represent. We’ve had questions and it’s not always easy to understand the percentage increases.

”What’s important to understand is we’ve had some fundamental shifts in what our state looks like over the course of five years,” she said. “We’ve really tried to focus funding more on a per-pupil basis … that is part of what’s happening here.”

Some districts that received large increases showed declines in their tangible personal property values, whereas other districts showed an increase in the number of students, Smith said.

“Some of them look relatively poorer, and that’s why you’re seeing some growth there. A few of the urbans have definitely declined,” she said.

Austintown is set to receive $17 million for 2013 and $19.17 million for 2014, a 12.7 percent increase.

“It’s not even making up what we lost from the last planning budget,” Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said.

“We have not been told if that’s state money or if they’re putting federal money on this budget. We don’t know if they’re mixing federal and state dollars. If they’re doing that, then we’re getting nothing; we’re actually losing,” he said.

Some districts lost valuation due to higher tangible personal property values. Liberty Schools Superintendent Stan Watson said that under Kasich’s new plan, the percentage of change for his district is relatively zero, and he believes property values are a big factor.

“If you look at it on paper, you would say this is a fairly wealthy school district, but if you look at the students that attend, that’s not the case,” he said, explaining that Liberty has some targeted areas of great wealth while 70 percent of the students are disadvantaged.

Other districts expected the worst when the preliminary amounts were released.

“We aren’t totally disappointed,” said Howland Schools Superintendent John Sheets, whose district is set to receive $3.9 million in 2013 and $4.88 million in 2014, a 25 percent increase.

“The issue is that the increases are not going to make up for the decreases that were in effect. We are relieved that we didn’t have funding taken away again.

”But at the same time, it’s almost like fuzzy math because the projection increases are based on numbers from two years ago. The increases aren’t going to restore us to the level of funding that we had two years ago,” he said.

Smith said some funding components weren’t included in the preliminary estimates, such as transportation and career and technical training.

The new breakdown distributes the money per category and per child, which is quite different than the previous calculations, which were based on performance, she said. However, student performance will still be a key factor.

“Student performance is the most important thing, and districts need as much flexibility as possible to make sure that they are meeting the needs of the students,” she said, explaining that schools aren’t necessarily required to spend all of the money issued in specific categories for that purpose.

For example, the gifted and talented category allocates $50 for every student in the district – not just gifted and talented students – and the money does not have to be used completely to identify and educate students in that category.

Smith said the State Board of Education is still working to define what it means to be making progress, which the state likely will measure by way of report card data, assessments, value-added data and other methods.

Colaluca and Sheets said their districts will be watching for any more changes to the budget as it goes through the legislative process, but for now, they remain cautiously optimistic.

“We were a district that fared positively, it just doesn’t look like something that’s going to make up for the level of funding that we had two years ago,” Sheets said.

“We won’t know anything until June when it’s signed,” Colaluca said.

Other districts, however, expressed their disappointment with Kasich’s new budget.

“It’s very disturbing. It does nothing to help Champion, or to help any of the school districts in Trumbull County,” Hood said.