Thursday, August 17, 2000

Taft hears opinions on schools

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WILLIAMSBURG — If opinions on reforming Ohio school funding were money, all the state's school financing problems would have been solved Wednesday during a wide-ranging public discussion rich in ideas.

        Led by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, the panel discussion in this Clermont County village prompted dozens of opinions on improving school funding, repairing the state's crumbling public schools and raising student performance.

        “Education is the most important issue facing Ohio right now, and I'm casting a wide net to gather as many ideas as possible,” Mr. Taft said. “All these ideas help clarify what our options are.”

        Among the ideas mentioned Wednesday:

        • Change state law, which does not allow local school property taxes to increase with inflation.

        • Switch to local income tax funding.

        • Offer tax incentives to private businesses that help repair schools.

        • Ask voters to approve a statewide tax to boost school funding for the poorest of Ohio's 612 public school districts.

        In May, the Ohio Supreme Court clarified the major task before the governor and state legislators: Create a new funding system for public schools.

        The court ruled 4-3 that the current funding system is unconstitutional. The court said state leaders have until June 2001 to respond.

        “We have to respond to the issues the Supreme Court raised,” Mr. Taft said. He plans three more public meetings.

        Mr. Taft took notes and questioned 19 Southwest Ohio teachers, school administrators, board members, business executives and citizens who weighed in on funding and other education issues at the Williamsburg Middle/High School before an audience of more than 120.

        “I can't underscore enough how many schools are in sad and desperate shape,” said William Duke, principal of Monfort Heights Elementary in Hamilton County's Northwest Schools.

        Cincinnati Board of Education member Catherine Ingram echoed the declining state of Cincinnati's city schools: “We have some of the oldest schools in Ohio ... some are more than a 100 years old.”

        But Vince Mauer, a lawyer and partner with Frost & Jacobs, questioned whether improving buildings would improve student performance.

        “More money won't change how certain families value education. It won't get children fed and to school on time,” Mr. Mauer said.


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