By LANCE MIHM
Area superintendents, who attended a meeting Thursday in Columbus, learned of a pleasant surprise regarding school funding as the basics of a Gov. John Kasich’s overhaul plan started to be revealed.
With most area school districts administrators waiting for the state budget plan to come out in early February, attendees at the meeting for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) learned the plan will narrow tax-based disparities between richer and poorer school districts, reward innovation and expand access to vouchers.
Kasich’s plan guarantees no funding losses for the next two years, with Ohio school funding seeing an across the board 6 percent hike in fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1 and ends June 30, 2014, and another 3.2 percent increase for the state’s fiscal year 2015. In addition, a special fund of $300 million was set aside to reward districts with grants for innovation and efficiency.
Kasich’s plan also guarantees that no schools will see funding cuts during the next biennial operations budget and special funds will be set aside for schools educating disabled students, students learning to speak English, and money to support gifted and talented students as well as high school students taking college classes.
The proposal will expand vouchers allowing parents to move children from low-performing schools to private schools.
For area superintendents, the information was welcomed but the plan still needs to clear the General Assembly. The proposal could result in funding increases for the Wapakoneta, Waynesfield-Goshen, and Botkins school districts.
Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner said he was encouraged by the initial message the budget sends to local districts.
“The message was positive, and I will take a positive message at this point,” Horner said.
Horner said he was fairly optimistic of the plan but he also was a bit skeptical since the final funding formula must still be passed by the General Assembly.
“One mill in Wapakoneta is drastically different from 1 mill in Arlington,” Horner said. “This likely will help the smaller rural districts. I don’t want to speculate, but I don’t think there will be any major changes.”
A key to the proposal is of the guarantee that no districts would see any budget cuts.
“Nobody will get less than what they got last year,” Horner said.
Botkins Local Schools Superintendent Connie Schneider said she was pleased with the governor’s plan.
“I was concerned with the fact that we may see a funding cut,” Schneider said. “Basically, I was pleased with what the governor said. I have always thought that all students are entitled to the same opportunities and he is going to do that.”
The 96th percentile of all the districts in the state, which amounts to 21 public school districts, will be brought up to be funded at a tax base level of $250,000 in property value per student to ease disparities in millage levels from local levies.
For districts with lower property value evaluations, such as Waynesfield-Goshen, which is in the bottom 10 percent, and Botkins, which had its new school project funded at 75 percent due to lower end values, the plan could likely result in increases in funding well above the 6 percent average increase statewide.
“The core of this proposal is that the governor said he wants to fund all students no matter where they are at,” Waynesfield-Goshen Local Schools Superindentent Chris Pfister said. “Being in the bottom 10 percent in property evaluation, we cannot generate what others do with a levy. We will not have the inequity anymore. It is the most phenomenal thing I have heard about school funding in years.”
Pfister shared the move should prove to be a positive for Waynesfield-Goshen Local Schools because it should result in a significant funding increase for the district.
The area district superintendents also agreed that they were encouraged by Kasich’s decision to unveil the plan to administrators first.