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Ohio School Funding Forum in Monroe
Monday, April 14, 2008 10:15:22 AM - Monroe Ohio
By Tom Birdwell, School Board President

Thank you to all who attended today's school funding forum (Sunday, April 13, 2008) with state Representative Coley, and state Senator Cates. We had a small turnout. There were no surprises, but here is a recap...

Photo: Senator Cates

Senator Cates gave an overview of the state budget process, and the funding available. As I have previously pointed out, there just is no available funding and thus we simply can't expect the state to come to our rescue. Currently, over 81% of the state's total budget is committed to just three programs, education, medicaid, and public safety, i.e. law enforcement and prisons. None of these three can be easily reduced. That leaves just 19% for all other state needs combined, so there is no real way for the state to reallocate significantly more funding to schools.

Senator Cates explained that House Bill 920, which rolls back property tax rates and destabilizes long term school funding today is not just in our state's laws, but that significant parts of it have been added to our state's constitution. This means the Legislature and Governor alone can't change this issue, and instead that doing so would require voter approval of a change to our constitution. I don't know which aspects of HB920 are bound by law, and which are now constitutional, but will try go get a full picture of this and get back to you.

Both Senator Cates and Representative Coley agreed that the state's school funding formula, how the money is distributed, is a disaster. Comparing it to the federal IRS laws, Senator Cates described that the system is grossly over-complicated, and designed to benefit ever shrinking major urban schools over smaller but growing suburban ones. State money simply does not follow student migration as our kids leave urban centers and go to smaller suburban districts like ours. Representative Coley described how it will be very difficult, if not impossible to redistribute today's education state funding, as our state's urban schools benefit greatly from the current method, and they control enough seats in the house and senate to block major changes. Further, he didn't say so, but I believe it will be extremely difficult to get a Democrat governor to fight to change today's distribution method, since the greatest benefactors of today's system are our large urban districts, which are all Democrat strongholds. Making major cuts there would cause a huge political problem for a Democrat Governor.

Again, both Senator Cates and Representative Coley agreed that the present funding formula's "phantom revenue" calculations need improvement. For those not familiar with it, this is the root cause of why our school districts use "temporary" emergency levys to fund permanent long term needs. Let me describe. Our permanent operations funding in Monroe is twenty mills. On top of that we have four five-year emergency levys. The need for these four temporary issues is permanent, but if we replace them with permanent levys, we will lose about $900,000 per year in current state income, and would have to add three additional mills of local taxes just to break even. The use of emergency levys in this fashion definitely helps local taxpayers save money, but it causes levy renewal after levy renewal. For example, Monroe must pass four emergency levy renewals in the next four years. If the state's funding formula supported our putting permanent levys in place, we could do so, and then focus on education instead of annual fiscal survival.

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