School funding issue needs addressed

On a local level, the May 7 special election yielded few surprises. Around Ohio, the results from this past Tuesday’s election show that while 90% of the renewal levies passed, only 42% of the levies requesting new money passed. In eastern Ohio, the results did not fare as well on the requests for ‘new money’ as most of the levies were defeated.

As local governments, school districts, park districts and the like look to the Nov. 5, 2013, general election ballot, they too will need to take a hard and sincere look at what voters are saying at the ballot box. While there are many reasons why voters say no to additional tax dollars to fund school budgets, the perception is that rural schools have a more difficult time passing levies in relation to those in urban areas.

The May 5 levy results confirm this issue and thus, it is beyond evident that Ohio has a major rural-urban funding gap that truly needs addressed before many of our rural school districts face dire straits as to their ability to meet the terms set forth in the Ohio Constitution.

In Eastern Ohio, voters said no to many of the proposed new school district levies, many of which of been on the ballot now many times these past few years. The sole exception to the general rule was the overwhelming passage of the new operating levy for the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District. The 2.7 mill levy will effectively replace the 2001 2.75 mill bond issue which expires this year. In effect, many property owners will see little or no increase in their real estate taxes as one tax issue is removed from the tax duplicate and a new one added. The Memorial Park District of St. Clairsville and Richland Township received a 75% approval of its proposed 0.25 mill levy, which takes effect this year and will be for a period of five(5) years. It will help the Park District trustees keep the park open as they continue to look at other ways to help continued state and local funding losses over the past few years.

What is now important to look at is why Ohio schools rely upon levies and tax issues to fully fund public education, as the Ohio Constitution dictates.

The other issue is how local governments, such as cities, villages, townships and park districts too are now accepting that their primary funding source, Local Government Funds, have been on the chopping block over the last five (5) years, with no end in sight.

On the school district front, the bigger issue that remains for all Ohioans is how the state funds its school districts and what changes need to be made. To begin, Article 6 of the Ohio Constitution reads in part: “The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state..” Today, schools get their funding from the state and the federal government, with the balance of the same that must come from local levy dollars. Thus, school boards must turn to the voters in their districts to approve monies to help supplement the other governmental funding sources.

The aforementioned setup is tiered to ensure schools are fully funded but the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly held that this system is unconstitutional. In 1997, in the DeRolph vs. State decision, the court ruled that the reliance upon local tax dollars results in an equality between property-poor rural districts and property-rich urban districts. As a result of the court’s findings, there have been numerous attempts in the legislature and in the governor’s office to adjust Ohio’s school-funding process but to date, there is no real plan proposed that everyone seems to agree upon that will dramatically change how schools are funded.

As of this date, Gov. Kasich has announced his plan to help equalize state tax dollars to rich and to poor school districts. In turn, the legislature, from the House to the Senate, either has or will release details on plans to improve Ohio’s school-funding formula.

As the state moves towards its 2014-2015 biennium budget, there will be continued discussion on the issue and future articles will keep voters educated on what is happening in Columbus. The voters across Ohio continue to voice their opinion on additional local dollars to fund schools.

Therefore, it makes good business sense for Ohio’s elected leaders take a good, long and honest bi-partisan look at the issue and make every attempt to work collectively to deal with an issue that should never be political-the education of our children-which is openly set forth in the Ohio Constitution.

Finally, there is a clear correlation between an excellent school system and how it affects a quality of life issue in a city or village.

It remains one of the top issues that businesses/developers look at it in relation to where they may locate or relocate their companies.

It behooves the General Assembly to ardently look at this issue as it continues to try to make Ohio business-friendly in an effort to grow the state’s economy.