Toledo area school district treasurers Wednesday participated in a panel discussion reviewing the shrinking budgets of public school funding, coupled with increasing state-mandated programs.
Hosted by the newly formed organization, Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education, four treasurers from the Sylvania, Perrysburg, Washington Local, and Springfield Local school districts presented figures at the discussion at Southview High School in Sylvania, and discussed how the state mandates are negatively affecting the Ohio public education system and its bottom line.
“This is a critical time in the education of the community about these issues ... Our state superintendent has said he hopes to live to see the day where every student in Ohio has money to go any place they want to go,” Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said before the panel discussion began. He said the results of that philosophy, providing money for charter or private schools, can be seen in the public school system.
Washington Local Treasurer Jeff Fouke said in fiscal year 2013 the district gave a chunk of its budget to charter schools. Last year, $2.6 million went to students who were not attending Washington Local schools, he said.
Sylvania Schools Treasurer Laura Sauber brought up the state's EdChoice Scholarship Program, which is based on household income and provides funds to kindergarten students to attend private or charter schools. She said next year it will fund kindergartners and first graders.
“For now districts are not funding that, but we don’t know what will happen in the future,” she said. “We need to monitor budget bills to see they will continue to fund those vouchers.”
Treasurers on the panel each had concerns about the future of state funding.
"We are all playing the guessing game ...we are told we are going to get a 6 to 4 percent increase, a 10.5 percent increase... but how is that money going to be distributed to us?” said Matt Feasel, Perrysburg treasurer.
About 70 people attended the event, mainly school officials, board members and candidates, Sylvania Township trustees and candidates, as well as current and retired teachers. They listened as the panel detailed decreasing revenue streams, including a drop in collected real estate taxes and property values that affect levy amounts collected. In addition, treasurers said schools are implementing government unfunded mandated programs. including the Affordable Care Act, technology use, the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum, and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
“I have a list of 67 unfunded mandates, from lunch programs to underground storage tanks -- all these things that we are required to do, but unfortunately there are only so many hours to go around,” Mr. Feasel said.
Because of shrinking budgets, district representatives said they had to cut back on staff and increase class sizes.
Two Sylvania science teachers said their classroom budgets have been cut, and as a result they have had to be thrifty with supplies.
Textbooks and lab equipment are not replenished as often, said Liz Casey, a science teacher at Arbor Hills Junior High School. In addition there are fewer chemicals for lab experiments and specimens for dissection, Joseph Duffey, a science teacher at Southview, said. The two explained that before two students would work on a lab assignment, now it is four.
Kit Veller of Perrysburg had two children graduate from the school district. She came to the panel to determine whether there was major differences between the districts in terms of finances. She said she learned they were all in the same boat.
"I want to be supportive of our schools. Listening to this, you see how the state is forcing school districts to rely on tax dollars," she said.
Daniel Greenberg, an English teacher at Southview and a member of the Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education steering committee, said the group, concerned about the public education system, is going to host more public discussions to alert the community about the state of Ohio's public schools.