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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Ohio House OKs education bailout

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The Ohio House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill to eliminate an estimated $295 million shortfall in the kindergarten-grade 12 budget that ends June 30.

Democrats complained that Republicans tucked the bailout into a separate bill to exempt employees of the Ohio School Facilities Commission from the state's collective bargaining law.

"Political games are irresponsible," said state Rep. Michael Skindell (D., Lakewood). "All of us support that funding issue. It should be standing alone."

But the House voted 54-43 to table a Democrat amendment that would have removed the collective bargaining exemption from the measure. The House then approved the bill 70-27.

The bill still must be considered by the Senate.

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) denied that the GOP was making it tough for Democrats to vote against the anti-collective bargaining bill by linking it to resolving the $295 million K-12 shortfall.

"We put it in there because we needed to get that money back out to the schools as quickly as possible," Mr. Husted said.

The bill calls for the state to use $150 million in federal "fiscal relief'' dollars that the state received in 2003, up to $30 million in state lottery profits, delay $30 million in state aid payments to districts with jumps in real and tangible personal property, and enables the state Department of Education to move funds around within its budget.

State Rep. Charles Calbert (R., Medina) said the shortfall occurred because of private students returning to public schools, including charter schools, fewer students dropping out of school, and a larger than anticipated increase in special education students.

Mr. Husted said House Republicans are looking for ways, such as calculating state aid based on enrollment over "multiple years," to prevent future funding shortfalls. In May, the state had to close a $108 million K-12 shortfall.

The legislature previously had exempted School Facilities Commission employees from joining a union, but the Ohio Supreme Court last year said the provision violated the requirement in the state Constitution that bills cover a "single subject."

Democrats said Republicans repeated that practice yesterday.

Mr. Calvert said the roughly 59 employees covered by the bill "serve at the pleasure of the commission'' and that flexiblity is needed because construction and renovation programs change often. The state created the facilities commission in 1997 to run five programs. Since then, nine programs have been added, and four have been dropped.

Employees of the House and Senate, the Ohio SchoolNet Commission, OhioReads Commission, and State Employment Relations Board also are exempt from the collective bargaining law, Mr. Calvert said.

As the House voted to eliminate the $295 million K-12 shortfall, nine parents of Toledo Public Schools students joined Superintendent Eugene Sanders in Columbus to meet with state legislators.

Mr. Sanders expressed frustration that some legislators are making policy based on inaccurate information, such as graduation rates of 50 percent in urban school districts. In 2002-2003, the graduation rate for Toledo Public Schools was 70.4 percent.

"The laws that are made are undercutting the growth we are making, and it's frustrating for me as a superintendent," he said.

Also yesterday, the House voted 89-6 to send a bill to Gov. Bob Taft for his signature that allows county boards of commissioners to earmark sales tax revenue for emergency medical services.

The House voted 62-33 to not agree with Senate amendments to the two-year, $7 billion transportation budget bill.

Later, a House-Senate committee unanimously approved a compromise that both chambers plan to vote on today.

The conference report adopts the Senate version that would continue to require that vehicles registered in Ohio display license plates at both the front and back. The House had voted to drop the front plate as a cost savings.

Both the House and Senate had agreed on creation of a "Fish Lake Erie'' special license plate, with proceeds going to research projects by the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

Jim Provance of The Blade's Columbus Bureau contributed to this report.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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