Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Parity aid not helpful, schools complain

New-program mandates would defeat purpose

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — School officials in poor districts throughout Ohio say they would be satisfied with state aid if they could spend the money where it is especially needed.

        Parity, they say, comes with strings attached. Districts must spend the money on new programs, such as advanced placement classes, new classroom equipment or all-day kindergarten.

        “If we add programs to use the money, we're really not getting any new money,” said Cindy Rhonemus, treasurer of Trimble Local Schools in Athens County. “If we have to add expenditures to use the revenues, it doesn't make sense.”

        The money is the state's response to disparities that exist because a levy amount in a poor district can't raise as much money as the same figure in a rich district.

        Once it's fully in place after five years, parity aid will provide $500 million a year to be split among about 490 districts, the bottom 80 percent of Ohio's 612 districts in terms of wealth.

        The poorer a district, the more money it receives. But many districts say they simply need money to cover the essentials.

        Trimble schools have a general-fund budget of $5 million. They will receive $185,000 in parity aid in a 12-month period.

        “Here's the bottom line,” Ms. Rhonemus said, “we're in fiscal emergency. We had to borrow money this year.”

        “The state believes this is the silver bullet that is going to get rid of wealth disparities,” said Joe Thesing, a lobbyist for the Ohio School Boards Association.

        David Varda, associate state superintendent of education, said parity aid is a positive effort.

        “And we think attaching the importance of continuous improvement is a very good thing.”

        Districts have until Sept. 1 to tell the state how they plan to spend the money. Mr. Varda admitted that may be early for some districts to submit spending plans.

        The state may become more flexible in how the money is spent as more money becomes available for parity aid, Mr. Varda said.


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