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Published: Friday, 5/14/2004

Hearing focuses on Ohio school money woes

Local educators and parents said last night the paralysis of political will among Ohio legislators to address meaningful change in educational funding leaves them with little hope of seeing real reform.

"The inequity of using the property tax for funding is unfair," Judy Robbins, a parent of two children in Toledo Public Schools. "We cannot keep putting our head in the sand."

Funding for education that places too much emphasis on property taxes for most revenue growth was a common complaint made at a public hearing at the Crystal Ellis Conference Center, 3301 Upton Ave. About 50 people were present when the hearing began.

It is one of several hearings being conducted this spring around the state to collect comment for a blue-ribbon task force on funding education created last year by Gov. Bob Taft. The hearing was co-sponsored by Ohio Fair Schools Campaign and the Coalition for Quality Education.

"People in public education offer every student hope," Tiffin Superintendent Denise Callihan said. "What hope do students have with underfunded schools? An underfunded school system is far from being all-inclusive, just, or fair. Ohio public schools must be adequately funded or there is no hope for Ohio."

Several area school board members and teachers spoke of the frequent need to ask local voters for higher taxes to stem teacher layoffs and other cost reductions.

Art and music teachers often are the first to feel the budget ax, they said. Yet, these subjects can be gateways to learning.

With more cuts in the arts, "we begin to lose what engages people in life," Martin Nagy, director of the Arts Council of Lake Erie West.

"If you take a look at it, the arts is a student's first language and yet we take that away," he said.

The best hope for funding reform now rests with some sort of ballot initiative that voters statewide can decide, said State Sen. Teresa Fedor, (D., Toledo).

State Democratic Party leaders may help start the needed petitions, she said.

Inattention to Ohio's education problems after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state method of funding education to be unconstitutional is not lost on young residents, she said.

"Our young people are paying attention," she said. "They are leaving with their feet."

Some people who spoke were not so pessimistic.

"Funding of schools has been a problem for a long time, but our children still get an education," Larry Sykes, a Toledo Public Schools board member, said. "As bad as it is, we are still making progress."

"It isn't the money. Money allows you to get things. It isn't the books. It is the attitude. And it is the aptitude - the willingness not to be denied an education," he said.



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