Monday, December 17, 2001

Magnet schools' funding cut

City system changes per-pupil allocation

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Eastwood Paideia Principal Louise S. Bell and staff and parents of 29 Cincinnati Public schools have their work cut out for them.

        Eastwood Paideia and other schools are planning to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from their budgets over the next two years.

        Eastwood, a 316-student elementary magnet school in Madisonville, must cut an estimated $258,600, or 12.8 percent of its budget, following a districtwide budgeting change approved by the Board of Education last week.

        Eastwood might lose teachers and Paideia coaches — teachers who work with students in small groups and who support classroom teachers, Ms. Bell said.

        “We are very concerned about how we are going to build lifelong learners with such devastating cuts,” Ms. Bell said.

        Schools that will lose money include many of the district's successful specialty magnet schools. Officials say equity was necessary but argue that the cuts will jeopardize their programs.

        “I cautioned the board that by destroying the funding levels of magnet programs, I fear additional middle-class families will leave the city and school district,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

        Another popular magnet school, Clark Montessori, is projected to lose $463,391 from its annual budget, phased in over two years. Principal Tom Rothwell said he hopes to lessen the blow by recruiting more students.

        “Our expectation is never to make a cut (in programs),” he said.

        In contrast, at least 43 other schools are determining how to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars being added to their budgets. Schools budgets are due Jan. 31.

        “The process is an excellent one,” said Principal Shelley Stein of Quebec Heights Elementary, a neighborhood school in Price Hill gaining an estimated $327,792. “It is very important that we do have equity in our schools whether they be neighborhood or magnet schools.”

        District officials said they altered schools' funding to create a more equitable system.

        Board President Rick Williams said the changes originated from a promise during the November 2000 levy campaign to use 1 mill of the 6-mill levy to bring neighborhood elementary schools to the same level of funding per student as elementary magnet schools.

        In the past, funding was doled out based on the types of programs each school offered. When the district moved to per-pupil funding three years ago, students in the specialty magnet schools, like Paideia and Montessori schools, received more funding per student than neighborhood schools.

        All that changed Dec. 3.

        Next school year, each student starts out with the same base funding — $4,707, and schools with special programs will not receive more money per student.

        “We're funding students, not the schools, starting next year,” Mr. Williams said. “It's based on student needs.”

        However, board members and district officials admit it takes more to educate some students. Those who receive special education, vocational, gifted and English-as-a-Second Language classes will receive additional funding. So will those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, as well as high school and students in grades K-3.

        To make the funding changes, schools that traditionally received more money — including the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Woodford Paideia, Clark Montessori and Hughes Center — have to absorb cuts so schools such as Whittier Elementary, Western Hills High and Quebec Heights Elementary can gain.

        “As a principal, I agree this was a much-needed timely move,” Eastwood's Ms. Bell said. “But the other side is we're being hit and hit hard. The whole program is at risk.”

        Administrators whose schools gain say the extra money will give them the tools to be more successful.

        “For years we felt we were so far below everyone else,” said Whittier Elementary Principal Dominick Ciolino. “We were just trying to catch up. But equity had to come sooner or later.”

        District officials say the blow is lessened by two factors:

        • A phase-in process will spread the losses and gains over two years, including subsidies for schools especially hard hit.

        • Many schools' budgets increased this year as a result of the November 2000 6-mill levy passage.

        “Most of the schools that lose revenues in the plan still increase from pre-levy days,” said district treasurer Michael Geoghegan.


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