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Published: Monday, 7/22/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ohio budget has schools guessing

Perrysburg, Toledo among districts unsure of state funds

BY MATT THOMPSON AND NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

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Perrysburg schools Treasurer Matt Feasel is frustrated.

While the new state budget released July 1 shows the district getting a 6.25 percent increase, he doesn’t know how much the district will actually receive. He received his first biweekly state funding check from the state of Ohio recently, and it showed the same amount as last year, because the state still doesn’t know how it will be allocated, he says.

“I don’t know how much it will be, I don’t think they know how much it will be,” he said. “That’s why it is so frustrating. That is why we’ve taken the approach that we can’t rely on state funding.”

Perrysburg received about $8 million in state aid last year, which should increase to about $8.5 million this year. The state overhauled how it calculates school funding, taking into account student poverty levels and ability for communities to raise money locally. Other requirements and guidelines within the state budget are still being ironed out, like a change in the way transportation is funded by schools.

“They’ll continue to pay us as they have in the past two years,” Mr. Feasel said. “Once they do figure it out, they'll make an adjustment, and there will be a blip and I'll get an extra $100,000, or they’re too short. There’s been months I had to write them a check. That is how crazy this is.”

Mr. Feasel said there could be changes in transportation state services within the budget, or other areas, that would cost the schools more money to operate.

He went last week to Owens Community College’s Findlay location for a meeting with Ohio Department of Education officials and hoped to find out some answers. Just before that, at a Perrysburg school board meeting July 15, he put his head down in frustration when asked if he had learned more about requirements.

Toledo Public Schools Treasurer Matt Cleland was also at the Owens meeting, and said school officials were told the final budget information would not be available until October.

An ODE spokesman said it is standard for districts to not get the complete financial picture until October, because district payments are based on student head counts done in that month’s first week. The state then adjusts its figures and rectifies payments accordingly.

State funds have fluctuated in recent years, with major reductions in the last budget bill and increases in this one, though not enough to make up for those recent cuts.

“There’s an increase in funding, and that’s appreciated, but it’s still not back to levels from a few years ago,” Mr. Cleland said.

Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said the district had projected a zero percent increase in state funding for the next five years because it is so unreliable. In February, the district was told that Perrysburg would have a 25 percent increase in funding with the new budget, but changes were made before the budget was approved.

The state budget holds $717 million more over the next two years for K-12 schools, an 11 percent increase. The education budget went through several iterations from Gov. John Kasich’s original proposal. Each formula change meant different estimates for districts.

For example, TPS will receive 6.25 percent in fiscal year 2014, slightly less than a submitted House plan. And it will receive about 4 percent more in the second year, compared to a 6 percent hike under the House plan.

Those changes left districts guessing during the budget process, and those guesses are not going to end anytime soon.

For a district such as TPS, much of what it will actually have to spend depends on how many students choose to enroll in charter schools or use vouchers for private schools.

An expansion of the voucher program allows students in low-income families to qualify for a voucher for kindergarten, regardless of their home public school’s performance. Previously only students who were assigned to low-performing schools could use vouchers. The change will mean students in Sylvania, Washington Local, Perrysburg, and elsewhere will qualify for kindergarten vouchers this year. The program expands to first grade next year.

Christopher Knight, Catholic Diocese of Toledo schools superintendent, said that 18 new schools in the system had registered to accept vouchers, and he expects all 61 schools who admit kindergarten students to register. Schools are focused on advertising the program.

Mr. Knight said it was too early to tell how many students would use the vouchers in Toledo. “Early indication are there’s a lot of interest,” he said.

Only 2,000 vouchers are available this year. The application deadline is July 31.

Contact Matt Thompson at: mthompson@theblade.com, 419-356-8786, or on Twitter at @mthompson25.



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