Tomorrow is the deadline for the general assembly to present evidence in support of its school funding proposal to the Ohio Supreme Court. But, not all school systems are happy with the final product, saying the plan favors suburban schools more than urban school districts. Not only that, but because of the unfavorable feedback from area schools, some legislators are afraid that they may have to start building a new funding plan from scratch. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims- Ohio's School Funding plan will give districts around $4,800 to spend on each student. That's roughly an $800 increase - and it's guaranteed - whether the government raises property taxes or not. Although this is a significant boost, not all school officials say it's fair. Property taxes allow suburban schools systems like Beachwood to spend $14,000 per student, according to school administrators. And they will get a slight increase of 2.1% in state funding as of July 1st.
Urban schools like East Cleveland rely heavily on state funds, but won't get an increase until next school year 2002, and even then they'll only receive 1.7%. East Cleveland Public Schools Superintendent Elvin Jones is one educator who's hoping the state Supreme Court will tell Ohio lawmakers to try again.
Elvin Jones- It's incomprehensible for me to understand you decide to send the money to a growing population that has a tax base that's already humoungous. We have no tax base and your going to not give us the support from the state. Puts us in a no win situation.
TS- Jones says one of the biggest problems urban areas face is sprawl. When families move away the cities tax base diminishes. East Cleveland, for example, has lost nearly 6,000 people since 1990. And last year the city's total tax revenue was less than $13 million - about half as much as Beachwood. Jones says the city may have to look at a tax levy to help supplement the state funds, but even those attempts would be a far cry from making the playing field even for all districts. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder says the individual concerns of the districts weren't the focus for this plan.
Larry Householder- When you look at it on a per pupil basis, we're significantly higher than we've been before in Ohio as far as what we afford a school district per pupil. But if the school district is losing population then they'll see not as great a reduction as when they're having a great gain of population.
TS- In spite of the discontent of urban areas, Speaker Householder say he feels the compromise plan should be accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court. State Representative Peter Lawson Jones is a Democrat from Shaker Heights. He believes the Court will say "try again", and when that happens they'll have to look at pooling tax money to level the opportunities between districts.
Peter Lawson Jones- I think there was some political support for it. Initially the governor examined it but in the face of pressure backed down. The speaker of the House was in favor of some form of pooling and what I firmly believe if the Supreme Court as I believe it will ships this case back to the general assembly to have a 3rd whack at it, that issues and ideas like pooling are going to have to be given much more serious consideration than they have been to date.
TS- Representative Jones says he backs a plan that would pool tax money from such areas as new commercial construction, new public utilities construction, and inventory tax money and redistribute those monies to communities that need the most help, like East Cleveland. But not all districts would be happy about digging that deep. Take Beachwood for example. Superintendent Paul Williams says if pooling were to happen, the reaction from citizens in his district would not be positive.
Paul Williams- Beachwood was planned in such a way that we would share the property in Beachwood with the businesses. And, so there would be a residential and business mix and that residential and business then would provide a very high property value from business and commercial sites so that we would have a lower property tax and would enjoy really a fine school system. If that's taken away I'm sure that the residents would be very unhappy.
TS- Superintendent Williams says although he's not in favor of pooling he does empathize with school districts like East Cleveland. He thinks the proposal that's being reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court is not fair to them. Meantime, Superintendent Jones of East Cleveland schools say if this plan passes he will file another lawsuit saying even if it is a long shot at least it will bring attention to a district that needs it. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.