By Sue Botos
Rocky River school Superintendent Michael Shoaf will speak to state Rep. Nan Baker and state Sen. Tom Patton this week regarding what he feels is a discrepancy in how the state funds public and private schools.
“We get $499 per student from the state and I’m advocating that we should get the same as private schools,” Shoaf stated at a recent school board committee session. He noted that nonpublic schools receive $1,000 per pupil from Columbus.
“This is not a big ticket to the state, but it is to us. It’s only fair. We’re all held to the same standards,” he added.
Shoaf told West Life that when the state established its minimum per-pupil funding, Rocky River ended up as one of 33 districts in the state falling below the private school amount.
District Treasurer Greg Markus added that under a formula set up years ago, the per-student payment is figured by taking a district’s property valuation, and subtracting 23 mills. Then, due to state cutbacks of school funding and other issues, those amounts were frozen. “Our property evaluation is high, so we won’t get an increase,” he stated.
The exact reason why private schools receive state money is murky, but Markus said it has do with the fact that many parents of private school students, such as those going to St. Christopher School, live in the city where their child’s school is located, and pay the taxes for public schools.
Markus has noted that under the new guidelines set by the state earlier this year, Rocky River’s property value per student has been calculated at $275,000, above the $250,000 limit for aid recently set by the state, so no additional state funds will be received over the next two fiscal years. However, the Orange district, with an excess of $400,000 of property value per student, will receive a 25 percent increase in state funding next year and a 7.3-percent hike in fiscal year 2015.
Westlake, with a student valuation of about $330,000, also will receive no extra help from the state over the next two fiscal years.
Markus said that school officials are still trying to determine the reasoning behind this, but he speculated that the Orange district may have more special needs students.
Combined with the $825,000 in cuts from the state in basic aid and the quick phasing out of the tangible personal property tax this year instead of 2017, the price-per-student inconsistency between public and private schools cuts deeper for the district. Shoaf, however, has stated that his lobbying will be for all of the 33 districts receiving less for each student than private schools.
“It’s not just about our bottom line, it’s about all schools,” he stated.
“We can talk about many other (financial) issues,” Shoaf stated, “but this is about fairness.”
School officials are hoping that Baker and Patton can sway the state legislature to see the schools’ side, as Baker did in 2011. At that time, the District 16 representative proposed a 20-percent cap on how much funding the state can cut from a district’s budget. At that time, Rocky River was slated to lose 76 percent of its state foundation funds.