Warren officials frustrated by funding formula

VINCENT – Warren Local Superintendent Tom Gibbs told board of education members Tuesday that there’s plenty of time for the school funding model proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich to change, but at this point, suggesting alterations is a challenge.

“It’s difficult even to provide any constructive criticism or recommendations for improvement because we don’t know where (the numbers) came from,” he said.

During Tuesday’s board of education meeting, Gibbs and district Treasurer Melcie Wells discussed the funding projections recently released by the governor’s office. When board members asked how some of the numbers were determined, Gibbs said he didn’t have definitive answers because the formulas that led to the projections had not yet been released.

“Why are we sitting here a week-and-a-half later trying to figure out what the formula is?” he said.

That’s just one source of frustration for some school officials around the state when it comes to Kasich’s attempt to address Ohio’s school funding system, declared unconstitutional years ago for its reliance on property taxes.

The governor previewed his plan at a Jan. 31 meeting of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in Columbus. Many superintendents left optimistic because of Kasich’s proposal to include income and poverty levels when determining a district’s wealth and his pledge that students should have the same opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of where they live.

But even though the plan would direct an additional $1.2 billion to education over the next two years, Warren and more than half of Ohio school districts would see no increase in state aid.

“About 60 percent are getting the same as they did and shortly will be getting less,” Warren board President Sidney Brackenridge said. “I think (Kasich) should learn to rephrase.”

In many cases, the new plan called for less funding for school districts than they are currently receiving. Guarantee money from the state will ensure no district drops below that level over the next two years, but administration officials have indicated they eventually would like to eliminate such funds.

Warren’s guarantee funding totals just under $200,000 in fiscal year 2014 and less than $40,000 the following year, but other districts would receive much more. Wolf Creek Local Schools’ guarantee amount would be around $900,000 both years.

Administration officials have said the lower funding amounts are often a result of rising property values and declining enrollment, and districts need to adjust to those realities. They say guarantees are necessary to prevent major funding losses but ultimately direct money to places where it is needed less.

Kasich has labeled his initiative “Achievement Everywhere,” but Warren board member John Nichols said that can’t become a reality unless it is based on a set amount of funding for every student in the state.

“That’s the only way that you can actually take this term – ‘Achievement Everywhere’ – and make it work,” he said.

Gibbs and Brackenridge agreed that there is a long way to go before the formula is finalized, since it must make its way through the General Assembly first.

“Don’t panic yet,” Gibbs said. “It’s early in the process. It always changes.”

In other business:

The board approved 4-0, with member Bob Allen absent, the retirement of six teachers, all of whom have served more than 30 years. Four of them have expressed interest in returning to work for the district under a retire/rehire arrangement under which they would move to the bottom of the salary scale and work for two years. That would have to be approved at a future meeting, but Gibbs said the arrangements would save the district $25,000 to $30,000 a year per teacher.

The board unanimously approved a list of seven goals for the superintendent, board and treasurer for 2013.

Some of them – like assuring an accurate five-year forecast is submitted to the state at least twice a year – are standard practices already, while others – such as maintaining a cash balance of at least two months’ expenses (about $3.3 million) – are regular goals that hadn’t been put in writing.

A new addition focused on communication, stating a hard-copy district newsletter would be provided at least twice a year, along with an online newsletter posted to the district website at least every other month. In addition, ways to use social media to better communicate with the public will be explored.

“I think everybody (in the district) lives with the reality that you can never really communicate enough,” Gibbs said.