Ten school districts appear on special ballots today, as they seek new operating money in some cases for the third, fourth or even sixth time as prior attempts have failed. Voters in Clark County have not approved new operating revenue for Tecumseh Local Schools in eighteen years.
What these districts have in common with one another and the other 603 public school systems in Ohio are deep and sustained cuts in state support for education during the Kasich years. The last state budget provided $1.8 billion less for education, and the current budget continues to underfund schools to the tune of over $1.3 billion compared to what the state says they need. IO has calculated that 3 in 4 Ohio school districts will have less state funding in 2014-2015 than they did in 2010-2011.
Field Local in Portage County is coping with $1.6 million less annually, including a reduction of $1.2 million from the tangible personal property tax, while Clark-Shawnee (Clark) reports losing $1.5 million in two years.
As a result of these cuts, and declining tax collections during the recession, all ten districts have faced budget deficits, forcing them to make deep cuts in the past few years. Each has eliminated teachers and administrative staff. Clark-Shawnee recently cut 15 teachers, increasing class sizes to 27-30 per teacher. Galion (Crawford) has reduced its staff by 100, while Cloverleaf (Medina) has shed 70.
Nine out of 10 have adopted or increased participation fees for sports and other extracurricular activities. Only Galion in Crawford County has not imposed fees on student activities. Some districts are just a step away from the complete elimination of athletics by imposing participation fees so high to put those activities out of reach for most kids. At Perkins Local Schools in Erie County, students will pay $730 per sport. The price tag is $750 at Huber Heights (Montgomery). Both promise a steep decrease in fees if a levy passes.
Eight out of these ten districts have or are planning to reduce bus transportation in the wake of state cuts. Some districts will stop transporting high school (Cloverleaf, Northeastern Local in Clark County) or middle school (Perkins) students, while others (Perkins, Huber Heights) are forcing elementary students walk longer distances.
Non-core courses have been slashed. Perkins will eliminate elementary art, music and physical education as well as gifted and computer education if its levy attempts fail. East Guernsey (Guernsey) has already stopped offering band, vocational agriculture, industrial arts and tutors while reducing gifted and science programs. Huber Heights is hoping a successful levy will allow it to restore technology and media specialists, middle school engineering, arts, gifted, ROTC, speech therapy and library services.
Field trips have been or will be slashed at Northeastern, Perkins and Field. And all-day, every-day kindergarten is a thing of the past in two districts (East Guernsey, Cloverleaf), and on the chopping block in one more (Field).
Many districts report shrinking enrollment as the impact of cuts are driving students to nearby districts, taking their state tax dollars with them. Field has seen its population drop as cuts to busing, art, gym, music field trips and the introduction of fees for sports and extracurricular activities made the district less desirable in the face of open enrollment policies.
The bottom line is that four years of Republican budgets are forcing school districts across Ohio to make drastic cuts that will impact the quality of education for Ohio children. And levies will only get harder to pass – starting in November, the longstanding rollback by which the state contributed the first 12.5% toward the taxes on residential real estate was eliminated for future levies in the current state budget. Based on past history, most of today’s levies will fail. Those that do will be on the ballot in November asking even more of taxpayers, prepared to make drastic cuts if that effort is unsuccessful.
This did not have to happen. Ohio’s budget is growing, as has its support for private school vouchers and charter schools, while investment in public education has been allowed to decline. Unless reforms are implemented to make local schools less – not more – dependent on local property tax collections, something the Supreme Court has ruled four times must happen – the types of cuts we’ve seen at these ten districts will become the norm across the state.
[compiled from media reports from around the state]