BOE opposes voucher House bill

Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner says he just wants a level playing field when it comes to school funding, standards and mandates — and House Bill 136 tilts the field even further in favor of parochial and private schools.
“We are all for competition because we think that makes us a better school and better men and women, but only if we play by the same rules and we are held accountable by the same rules,” Horner said during Tuesday’s Wapakoneta City Schools Board of Education meeting. “We are not held to the same standards and House Bill 136 is a horrible piece of legislation.”
Board members voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing House Bill 136, also known as the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship (PACT) voucher program, which expands the school voucher system. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, would permit students in Ohio to receive vouchers to attend non-public schools, provided their families makes less than a family adjusted income of $102,800 or less.
Current law stipulates that vouchers to attend non-public schools are only available to students living in areas where the public schools are not achieving as they should be year after year on state testing.
Under House Bill 136, students already enrolled in non-public schools would be eligible for the vouchers and families could “bank the excess,” if their school’s tuition is less than the voucher amount and save it for college tuition or textbooks.
Horner said Wednesday the bill tilts the scales even more toward private and parochial schools since public schools must accept all students and must comply to all mandates, such as state assessment tests. He also believes the bill violates the separation of church and state.
He also objects to the bill because under the terms of the legislation, more state and federal funds could be shifted from public schools to private and parochial schools — a move that could further deepen a financial crisis at Wapakoneta City Schools.
Treasurer Susan Rinehart issued her five-year financial forecast to board members Tuesday which showed the school district operating with a deficit during the 2012-13 school year. It is a result of cuts in state and federal funding and increased operating costs — specifically related to health care and dental insurance costs and programming for special needs education.
Horner said they continue to look at ways to balance the budget in the future through additional cuts and greater efficiency as well as considering other options.
“We are in significant jeopardy,” Horner told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “As soon as we noticed that in 2008 and 2009, we started making cuts.”
He said the school district is expected to lose $1.6 million in state funds in the next biennium, more than the $1.2 state officials first told them. They also are experiencing hikes in insurance costs that are higher than projected. The cuts in funding and increases in spending forced school officials to use cash reserves, or cash carryovers.
“We have cut our staff through attrition and made cuts in other places, but we are getting to the point where it will truly impact all our kids and our offerings,” Horner said, noting they are teaching approximately the same number of students as they did 10 years ago, but they have reduced staff to 280 from 308 in the last five years. “We are looking at things we can cut, we are looking at what we are offering extra that can be cut — future cuts are going to be very, very impactful.”