Can a $500,000 hit in state funding be absorbed by the Wellington Schools?
That’s what Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2018 and 2019 budget proposal calls for in districts like Wellington that have seen drops of five percent or more in enrollment over the past five years.
Since 2011, Wellington has lost 222 students, or 11 percent of its enrollment. New superintendent Ed Weber said 389 Ohio school districts saw enrollment drops over the same time period and 180 of them will be losing state dollars.
“As it stands right now, our funding will be $250,000 less next year,” he said Feb. 9 at a board of education work session. “It will add up to $500,000 over a two-year period.”
Some have blamed the drop in aid on $5 billion in tax cuts approved by Kasich since becoming governor, which he has denied, saying communities should “help themselves” with local taxes and school levies.
Whether small, rural schools like Wellington or large, cash-strapped districts like Lorain can make up the loss is questionable.
There is no permanent improvement levy in the Wellington district, so officials use roughly $150,000 each year from the general fund to make building repairs and buy equipment such as buses, textbooks, and light bulbs.
Kasich says public schools have not exhausted all options to cut their own costs like merging with other districts and joining cooperative purchasing programs. Also, he said many districts sit on large cash carryover balances rather than spending them on students.
At the same time, the state sits on a $2 billion budget stabilization fund dubbed its “Rainy Day Reserve.”
Ohio’s $1 billion dollar for-profit charter school industry, which reroutes tax dollars from public districts, has been criticized nationwide as a haven for misspent funds and corruption. Audits released by the state revealed $27.3 million in what they consider improper spending since 2001, which is four times that of any public school district, according to the Washington Post.
“There’s never enough money to go around,” said Weber. “I don’t want to say we should get more and anyone else should get less, but to some degree, that seems like what’s happened in Ohio. Charter schools have needed money and taken it from public schools. I want all of the (schools) above to have every chance to educate our children. I’ll just say we’d like to have less taken away.”
“I guess I get the thought process behind this, in allocating state resources toward districts with more students,” said school board member Brett Murner. “It does seem a bit unfair, though, and like a have and have-not system.”
The Wellington Schools cut about $2 million from its budget in 2015, mostly through teacher layoffs.
In a five-year forecast filed with the state toward the end of 2016, Wellington is projected to exhaust its $3.8 million cash reserve in about four years. The reserve will gradually disappear as educators expect to spend $401,380 more than they make in 2018, growing to $1.9 million by 2021.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.