Details confusing on governor's school funding plan

SANDUSKY Nancy Beier doesn't understand the funding formula yet, but she hopes to soon.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Nancy Beier doesn't understand the funding formula yet, but she hopes to soon.

The Bellevue Schools treasurer is still wading through 43 pages of dense analysis, trying to make sense of Gov. Ted Strickland'sproposal to overhaul publiceducation in Ohio.

"I'm still deciphering it," Beier said. "I'm not there yet. There's alot of components that makeup that number."

She's not the only one puzzled by the governor's proposal.

School officials across northcentral Ohio can't seem to make heads or tails of the governor's plan. This is because they say acrucial puzzle piece is missing -- the funding equation itself.

"I just got back from a superintendents meeting, and we don't know what the formula is," Monroeville Schools superintendent David Stubblebine said. "There were (state) representatives there too, and they don't know what the formula is, either."

Predictably, school officials from districts that stand to receive increases in state allocations are generally pleased with Strickland's proposition. School officials from districts that would suffer a decline in state funding are less enthused.

What's the catch?

The education plan is still awaiting approval by the state legislature.

Bellevue is one of the few local districts Gov. Strickland's proposal would provide with more money. Others include Norwalk and Sandusky Schools.

Figures released on Monday by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management show Bellevue Schools would receive 15 percent more in 2010 than in 2009. Bellevue Schools received $8.23 million in 2009.

Under the governor's proposal, the district would receive $9.43 million in 2010 -- an increase of $1.19 million.

In 2011, Bellevue would receive about 1 percent more -- $9.56 million total.

But there may be a catch -- actually, a few catches, Beier said.

"What I'm looking at is the new requirements," Beier said. "What do we have to add -- according to the governor's plan -- to get to the Ohio-Adapted Evidence-Based Model he's speaking about?"

Some parts of Strickland's plan include increasing the school year by 20 days within the next 10 years, using the ACT test as a graduation requirement and implementing a policy to more effectively hold teachers accountable.

Like other school officials, Beier fears the new mandates will cost more than what the state provides in new funding.

The plan

The new funding model is meant to provide school districts with the money they need to implement the proposed reforms, said Amanda Wurst, Strickland's press secretary.

"As part of the Evidence-Based Model, the funding (pays for) the reforms," Wurst said. "The school funding will ensure school districts will have the resources they need to provide an adequate education, as it's identified in the Evidence-Based Model."

Factors used to determine the amount of state funding each district receives include student enrollment, the unique needs of students, student-to-teacher ratios and building needs, according to a supplemental narrative with the state's budget.

According to the Office of Budget and Management, about 348 of Ohio's 610 school districts -- 57 percent -- will receive more funding in 2010 than in 2009, with poor rural and urban districts accounting for the bulk of this.

But some school officials balk at the idea.

They claim many wealthy school districts would receive more state funding, while poorer districts would get shortchanged.

"There are wealthy districts that are getting increases while there are districts like Monroeville," Stubblebine said. "We can't even patch our roof."

Monroeville Schools would receive $2.31 million in 2010 -- the same amount it received in 2009. In 2011, the district would only receive $3,246 more -- so small an amount it wouldn't even matter, Stubblebine said.

But then again, at least Monroeville's not losing money.

The losers under the plan

Under the governor's plan, Perkins Schools, Huron Schools, Port Clinton Schools and Berlin-Milan Schools would get a zero percent increase in funding in 2010.

In 2011, these districts would get 2 percent less than the prior year. That means two years out, Perkins Schools would get $74,000 less; Huron Schools, $46,300 less; Port Clinton Schools, $58,200 less; and Berlin-Milan Schools, $112,400 less.

Lisa Crescimano, Perkins Schools treasurer, said it is counterintuitive that school districts with high property values -- like Avon Lake Schools -- are on track to receive larger amounts of state funding when the same is not true for less wealthy districts.

"Looking at other school districts, it doesn't make sense to us," Crescimano said.

Even school officials from districts that would receive more state money have doubts the governor's proposal will work out.

Norwalk Schools would receive $13.56 million in 2010 -- an increase of $1.77 million from 2009's allocation of $11.79 million.

The district would receive 11 percent more in 2011 -- bringing the total to $15.02 million.

"Right now, the numbers look very favorable for the Norwalk City Schools," Norwalk Schools superintendent Wayne Babcanec said. "But I will believe it when I see it."

Babcanec said he's concerned about how the governor will pay to implement this plan. It's a question troubling educators statewide.

Like Norwalk, Sandusky Schools also looks good on paper.

The district's allocation would grow 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 -- from $15.07 million to $17.33 million. The allocation would then grow another 13 percent in 2011 to $19.56 million.

But Sandusky Schools treasurer Kevin Robertson said the plan could undergo some serious revisions by the time it gets approved.

"Is that what it's going to be when the budget is released in July? At this point, I am not relying on it until we get something a little more solid," Robertson said.

Even if the proposal were to emerge from Senate and House committees intact, Robertson said he worries it would contain too many costly requirements.

"I'm worried the proposed $2.2 million we're supposed to get next year will cost us $5 million," Robertson.