Denise Smith Amos and Michael D. Clark report:
In the next two years, Ohio may send $94 million more to Greater Cincinnati school districts than it currently sends in state aid.
But that won’t be enough to keep some districts off the November ballot or to restore some academic programs and jobs that districts cut after budget shortfalls in recent years. It also won’t quell some districts’ dissatisfaction with state funding levels.
Lakota and West Clermont are among several Greater Cincinnati-area districts slated to receive more state dollars next year but still planning a ballot issue this fall, district leaders said.
Lakota is supposed to receive $7 million more in state aid over the next two years if the budget proposal passes, but it will still need a victory in November to stabilize its $154 million operating budget, said Randy Oppenheimer, spokesman for the 16,949-student school system.
“It looks like under the Senate plan we’ll see some increase,” he said. “That’s already been built into our forecasts. But that’s after years of funding decreases.”
Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia said the proposed budget will make it harder for districts and local governments to win local levy campaigns after this year. The budget proposal will eliminate state reimbursements that allow for 12.5 percent rollbacks in local property taxes, so property owners will have to make up that slack.
Any new or substitute tax levy after 2013 would need to have 12.5 percent greater millage to realize the same dollars.
West Clermont has suffered several levy defeats in recent years, forcing it to close some school libraries and lay off physical education, music and art instructors. This week and next district leaders and the public are weighing levy options again, ranging from 3.9 mills to 4.5 mills, based on what programs residents are inclined to restore.
The increases in state funding in this budget proposal won’t change that, said Debbie Alberico, district spokeswoman.
“Even if we’re going to get $3.8 million more, it’s going to stop the cuts but not bring anything back,” she said. “We’re still not going to get our arts, music, PE or libraries back” without a successful local levy.
Some district officials say they’re just happy not to see another year of cuts to state funding.
“We are happy to see a potential increase in funding,” Kings Superintendent Valerie Browning said. “We have not seen any increase in funding since 2003 and in fact have lost (tangible personal property tax) reimbursement money and federal stimulus money.”
But 10 Cincinnati-area districts will not see increases, based on the budget proposal’s formula. Norwood is among them, even though it has a high percentage of low-income students at nearly 61 percent.
By comparison, Indian Hill and Sycamore schools, both high-income school districts, managed to get a small bump in their state funding over the next two years.
Norwood Superintendent Rob Amodio said he’s just relieved there are no big cuts in the budget proposal, though he wishes the process was fairer.
He said the budget “still does not address the lack of an equitable school funding formula and specifically still places the primary tax burden on the homeowners within our district.”
The new formula to determine the amount of money each district will receive is about as complicated as the old state funding formulas, some school leaders say. It’s still too complex and its results are sometimes unusual. For instance, the average basic aid for each public school student will be $5,745 next year. Yet in this budget proposal, only five Greater Cincinnati districts can expect that or better. Most will get between $2,000 and $4,000 per student based on the projections.
And among the districts getting the least state aid per student is Princeton, a district considered property wealthy by the state because of its businesses but also serving a student populace that is at least 62 percent low income, said Gary Pack, Princeton’s superintendent.
Princeton next year will get about $814 per student from the state under the budget plan, a little more than Indian Hill and Sycamore districts will get, but a third from the bottom in the Cincinnati region. The state expects Princeton property owners to make up the rest.
Pack said the cap on state funding increases in the budget is also partially to blame.
Ohio capped increases in state school funding at 6.25 percent of a district’s current state aid for the next year and 10.5 percent for the following year. More than half the state’s 614 school districts are already at the 6.25 percent cap and 177 will reach the 10.5 percent limit the following year.
John McClelland, spokesman for the Republican Caucus, said the caps are an effort to provide as much money as possible to as many schools as possible across the state.
“It would take somebody with a Ph.D. in finance to explain what is happening in Ohio,” Pack said. “And at the end of the day, the state is still providing less public support, percentage-wise, for public school districts and more support for charters and private schools.”
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