Thursday, January 25, 2001

Plan skips funding fix for schools, some say


But educators, parents like increase in aid

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Southwestern Ohio educators and parents say Gov. Bob Taft's plans boost state funding for education but neglect to address the state's reliance on property taxes to pay for schools. The state is under a June 15 deadline imposed by the Ohio Supreme Court to fix an education funding system that relies on property taxes.

        Mr. Taft on Wednesday outlined plans to put 50 percent of all new spending toward education.

        That means more money for all-day kindergarten, $80 million for teacher training, $10 billion over 12 years for school facilities and additional funds for special education and transportation.

        The state also will increase the base cost per pupil to $5,484 in five years. That's up from the current level of $4,294.

        Educators said the increase in state funds is essential.

        “It concerns me that his proposals have not yet addressed the reliance we have on property taxes,” said James Thomas, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place superintendent. “Other states have met this challenge and have found a way to work this out, and I'm sure we can, too. We have to keep working at it.”

        Yet Mr. Taft's proposal would put the state's share of education funding well above the 41 percent it now contributes. This would reduce the burden on local taxpayers.

        “I think that's part of what the court was talking about,” Mr. Thomas said. “We need to create a system that is more equitable and that provides more-adequate funding from the state.”

Perks for CPS

        The plan has significant benefits for Cincinnati Public Schools, Superintendent Steven Adamowski said.

        It means more state money for each student, as well as funds targeted to special areas like transportation, school facilities, early literacy and special-education services.

        “I think his recommendations reinforce a good deal of the direction we are going, and this will help us do it,” Mr. Adamowski said. “Right now we are carving all of this out of our current state aid. These targeted funds will help us expand state initiatives and allow us to use other funds for our daily operations.”

        But for a district like Little Miami Schools in Warren County, the increased state aid will not go far enough, Superintendent Ralph Shell said.

        Little Miami is a district where the average income level is in the top third statewide, and Mr. Shell does not foresee state money flowing into his district's coffers.

        “We will be financially solvent until end of 2002, so sometime between now and the end of 2002, we are going to have to have some changes,” Mr. Shell said.

        That means either an increase in state dollars, or increasing local taxes to pay for schools. An attempt to add an income tax was defeated by voters in November.

        “If they continue to leave this as a local option, there will always be districts willing to pay for education and others that are not,” Mr. Shell said.

        That's even the case in a property-rich district like St. Bernard-Elmwood Place.

        Mr. Thomas described what happened there recently.

        “We are property rich, with Procter & Gamble and the other companies here, but when P&G cut back that hurt us considerably. Yet even with that plant closing we are still better off than many other districts are and we recognize that.

        What schools need, Mr. Thomas said, is a measure that helps students in property-poor districts.

        “What happens to those kids?” Mr. Thomas said. “It makes it difficult for them to get the same education.”

Seeking equity

        Educators and parents said they want the state to determine what it costs to equitably and adequately educate every child. Then every district should receive that amount for each student, even if that means taking some tax money from one school district and redistributing the funds to another school system.

        Elissa Sonnenberg, a parent at North Avondale Montessori in Cincinnati, said every child deserves the same education.

        “There needs to be a sense of community responsibility,” Mrs. Sonnenberg said. “We need to commit to supporting all children all over the state. We need to make sure every one of them has at least some strong level of support. That's what public education is about.”

State of the State
Excerpts of the State of the State address delivered Wednesday by Gov. Bob Taft.
Grants will help with heating bills
- Plan skips funding fix for schools, some say
Taft's honeymoon could be over
Taft's initiatives
       



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