A stable commercial base, high property values and good schools are qualities thatcan lure potential residents to a city. These assets have created a perfect storm, however, for Rocky River, contributing in part to the district receiving the biggest chop among area schools from Gov. John Kasich’s budget ax.
Superintendent Michael Shoaf told a packed house at Goldwood Primary School last week that he vows to fight the 76.1 percent cut, which, along with the accelerated phasing out of reimbursements from tangible personal property tax and utility deregulation, amount to a loss of $6,089,686 for the district over four years. “I live in Rocky River and noticed that my taxes didn’t go down, but our school funding did. Is that not why I pay taxes?” he asked the assembly. While not promising any concrete results, state Rep. Nan Baker and state Sen. Tom Patton, also on hand for the meeting, said that they would attempt to minimize the impact of the cuts.
Baker stated that all school systems within her District 16, with the exception of Bay Village, saw their budgets trimmed by 20 percent or more. Lack of commercial property gave Bay a break with an 11 percent cut. She added that while receiving less of a cut, other systems may fare worse. “Because they don’t have higher property values, they are more dependent on the money. Dollar for dollar, others are taking significant cuts even though it looks like the percentage is less,” Baker said. However, she continued, “I will say, a 76 percent cut on even a small amount is too much. We already subsidize others. To gut us for what we have left is unfair.”
In an earlier part of the presentation, Shoaf explained that the district had planned for a 15-percent cut in state funding and had carefully budgeted so that a ballot issue could be avoided for another year. “Our goal is still to stay off the ballot. You don’t want us there, and quite frankly, we don’t want to be there,” stated Shoaf. The alternatives, he said, are further budget reductions in personnel, departments and buildings. He said that as many as 25 teachers could lose their jobs without a levy. Through these measures, he said about $450,000 to $500,000 of a loss could be absorbed. He said that any help from the passage of Senate Bill 5 is still uncertain.
He called on Baker and Patton for their assistance, outlining a plan to cap state cuts to all districts at 20 percent, and to not give increases to those districts targeted to receive as much as a 16-percent raise. “That could result in $50 million in the budget of education that can be used in other ways,” he stated.
Baker said that she has proposed such an amendment, which will be reviewed this week. “If we think a district where two parents are working, the kids have student loans, everyone has a mortgage on their house, where they all believe in education and take care of their kids, if that’s a wealthy district, we have a bigger problem here in Ohio than with understanding what achievement and success are,” Baker said to applause from the crowd.
Patton gave a background on the state budget, which now includes an $8.5 billion deficit. “I’m not here to apologize for the budget, but I can assure you that no one is more upset about the budget than Tom Patton,” he stated. He explained a complex formula is used to figure per-pupil spending, where commercial and private property values are divided by enrollment. Patton continued by speaking of a 1993 Ohio Supreme Court mandate, which stated that every student in the state is entitled to an equal education. “This will never happen, because we won’t attract quality teachers and administrators to a (challenged) district,” Patton said. In answering residents’ questions after the presentations, Shoaf said that recently 5,100 applications were received for 17 positions in the distirct.
Because of this goal for equality, Patton said, a multibillion-dollar fund exists for school facilities. “Superintendent, will you see any of that?” he asked Shoaf.
Shoaf responded that before placing last year’s capital improvements issue on the ballot, the district tried to secure state funds for roofing and HVAC upgrades. He said that it was determined, using the appropriate formulas, that the district was eligible for $200,000, but the request was refused. “We try to get money and we still can’t,” he remarked, adding, “We get so little as it is, why are we taking such a drastic hit?”
Patton said that there was a state program offering zero-percent interest to schools doing construction work. An amendment was discussed that would give those districts receiving less than 20 percent of their funding from the state “first crack at the zero-percent interest,” according to Patton. “That bill was vetoed by the governor,” he stated.
According to Patton, an amendment is now being considered that would put a freeze on unfunded state mandates. “If school districts are cut to this level, at least for these next two years, there shall be no mandates short of mandates for special education,” he stated.
Fielding questions and concerns from residents after the presentations, Baker told the crowd, “I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to be successful.” She compared the budgeting to a shell game, stating, “We can’t work any harder trying to figure out what we can do to help the district.”