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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

Opposition to Kasich's budget urged

Democratic representative, Oregon superintendent say schools hurt

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

State Rep. Matthew Szollosi (D., Oregon) urged residents last week to write, call, or otherwise contact state legislators to tell them school funding in Gov. John Kasich's proposed two-year budget is unacceptable and funding should be restored.

Oregon City Schools, which has planned for continued state cuts, will unexpectedly lose $2.4 million in the next two years under the proposed budget because some replacement revenues will disappear more quickly than expected.

District leaders say it will lose roughly $3 million in government funding over the next two years.

"Personally, I don't know how we can absorb that type of loss," Mr. Szollosi said during a town hall meeting at Jerusalem Elementary last week. "I think it's hard. I don't think we can absorb these figures and cuts."

He added of state politicians: "There's a complete difference in priorities, and I don't know how it can be any more stark than that."

About 25 school district residents attended the more than two-hour town hall meeting last week called by Mr. Szollosi and featuring explanations by Oregon City Schools Superintendent Mike Zalar and Jane Fruth, treasurer.

Mr. Szollosi said the budget likely will pass the Ohio House of Representatives next week and move to the Senate, so time to voice concerns is waning.

While answering questions from audience members, Mr. Szollosi said he has supported several ways to get more than $3 billion in additional state revenues, but they have been disregarded in a state where one party, Republicans, are in political control. Closing some tax loopholes and allowing video lottery terminals at racetracks are among revenue-producing plans he supports, he said.

Ken Steingraber of Oregon asked why the governor, legislators, and others don't accept pay and benefit cuts to help balance the state's budget.

"That's what I think most of us are tired of," Mr. Steingraber said. "It doesn't start at the top. That's pathetic."

He added: "A lot of us are getting to the point where enough is enough."

Mr. Szollosi and district officials fielded various questions about the state and school district's budgets. Some in the crowd questioned why school funding continues as it is even though the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional four times, and why teachers in the district do not take pay cuts to help balance the budget.

Resistance to changing school funding continues, Mr. Szollosi said. As far as pay cuts for Oregon teachers go, they have made sacrifices along with everyone else in the district, and negotiations are coming up, Mr. Zalar said.

"That's not going to solve our problem," Mr. Zalar said of pay cuts. "We can't cut our way out of the mess."

He added: "We're trying to do this in a way that preserves the good system we have as much as possible."

Oregon was able to delay a $518,908 federal grant to next school year because district officials knew state funding would decline, Mrs. Fruth said.

The district will end next school year in the black, Mr. Zalar said. It has cut $2.4 million out of next year's budget, including closing Wynn Elementary, and made nearly $7 million in reductions in this and two prior school years, he said.

"We're getting down to the bone," Mr. Zalar said. "Where do you go after you've already eliminated high school busing?"



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