2007-04-14 / News

School funding initiative explained

MILLERSPORT - "I'm happy to be here," Interim Superintendent Ronald Thornton told Walnut Township School District board members Monday night. Thornton replaces Ed Abram who retired March 31 after 30 years in education and 14 years with Walnut Township.

He told board members he is trying to meet as many people as possible and is getting his officeorganized. Thornton promised a more detailed report next month.

Board members spent most of the meeting listening to a presentation by Barbara Shaner, associate executive director of Ohio Association of School Business Officials, about the school funding ballot initiative. The association is one of a dozen groups currently seeking signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. She distributed and discussed a one-page summary of the initiative. Shaner said more than 400,000 valid signatures of registered voters are needed to get it on the ballot, meaning proponents will need to collect many more than that. Local school boards are being asked to support the initiative and to contribute $1 per pupil for the campaign. Teachers, who are members of the Ohio Education Association, are being assessed an extra $25 in union dues to support the campaign.

First, the proposed amendment establishes "a fundamental right to a high quality education." Ohio would join 15 other states with similar constitutional language. Though it also creates appointed Education Accountability and Education Advisory commissions, the State Board of Education would have primary control over K-12 education. The 19-member board, eleven elected and eight appointed by the governor, will determine every two years what components are necessary to provide a high quality education for all types of students and what those components cost. The 18- member Education Advisory Commission will assist in this process.

Once the State Board determines the cost, the State Treasurer must deposit the required funds into the School Trust Fund. The General Assembly's role is reduced to a right of legislative override by three-fifths majority vote of each house, to determine alternate costs, provided they "shall include and provide funds for essentially the same components, programs and services as determined by the State Board of Education…"

"The state would have to fund what the board recommends," Shaner said. "They (the state) will have to findthe revenue."

The required local contribution would be capped at 20 mills, though districts, if voters approve, could raise more money locally without it affecting their level of state aid. Twenty mills cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $700 a year. Local millage would be gradually reduced to the 20 mill floor starting in fiscal year 2012 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012), reaching the floor by July 1, 2016.

The amendment also makes sure the General Assembly continues to provide funds for school facilities through June 30, 2012. The state must continue to provide funding for "safe, educationally adequate and building code complaint school facilities as are necessary to the availability of a High Quality Public Education" after January 1, 2012. The local contribution for new or renovated school facilities can not exceed 5 mills.

In addition, the proposed amendment forces the General Assembly to maintain the Local Government Trust Fund at the same level as fiscal year 2006 and to adjust it annually for inflation. Similarly, the legislature must also fund public higher education at the same level as fiscal year 2007 and adjust it annually for inflation.

"We are going to have to pay attention to who gets elected to the state board of education," Shaner said. Members are elected from 11 districts. Fairfield,Licking and Perry counties are in District 9 which covers 17 counties and part of two others. Terms of the elected and appointed members expire either 12/31/08 or 12/31/10.

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Thornton fears the state won't come up with its required revenue while local taxes will be reduced to the 20 mill floor. "I believe the amendment has teeth," Shaner responded. She said it provides direct access to the Ohio Supreme Court to enforce the funding provisions.

Petitions must be filed in August, she said, but the campaign wants as many signatures as possible by the end of May. She contends signing the petition isn't a vote for the amendment, but rather an opportunity for the debate to occur.

Later in the meeting, board members discussed the initiative. "I personally have questions with it," Thornton said. "The vagueness is a concern for me," President David Brookover added. "You're going to get taxed one way or another," Vice President Sarah Alley, MD said. Members took no action on the issue.

In other business, board members unanimously approved the original 2007- 2008 school calendar after a one-month delay. Class start Wednesday, August 22. The first day of winter break is December 24 with classes resuming January 2. Spring break comes after Easter next year, running March 21 through March 28. The last day would be the first make-up day if the districts exceeds the fiveallowed calamity days. The last day of school is May 30 with graduation on Sunday, June 1.

A teacher questioned why the district continues to have 181 student days when the state requires 180. "I don't understand the logic behind it," Thornton said. "It's time to review it." The issue is expected to be part of the district's upcoming negotiations with teachers.

Board members also unanimously approved several of the superintendent's personnel recommendations.

+ Supplemental contracts were approved for three non-teachers: Larry Blackstone, head football coach; Holly Gibson, head volleyball coach; and Elizabeth Arnold, assistant volleyball coach.

+ One year contracts were approved for the following teachers: Sarah J. Arruda, Holly R. E. Caudle, Thomas Howard, Danute B. Lawrence, Susan C. Moore, Leslie A. Osterman, Laura A. Phillips, Brett A. Prince; Megan L. Terry and Adrienne M. Winders.

+ Three year contracts were approved for the following teachers: Joseph B. Brownfield,Lori B. Dupler, Mary A. Ford, Noelle M. Harkabus, Brock M. Swonguer and Angela E. Ulrich.

+ Five year contracts were approved for the following teachers: Donna L. Anderson, Debra E. Cassady, Steven D. Mohler, Jeffrey L. Stought, Jennifer K. Swinehart and Kimberly M. Yenni.

+ A continuing contract was approved for Michelle L. Peters.

+ Carol Kitzmiller's retirement after 20 years of service as a cook was accepted with regret. Supplemental contract resignations were accepted from Ken Keener as head cross country and track coach, Sarah Arruda as sophomore class advisor and Krystal Zollinger as junior high volleyball coach.

During a review of facility usage requests granted by the superintendent, Alley objected to the regular use of the elementary gym on Sunday afternoons from March 18 through May 20 for adult basketball. She said she understood the board's policy for Sunday use of facilities to be limited to intermittent use for activities for students, not regular use. Thornton promised to take care of it.

The board went into executive or closed session to discuss the search for a permanent superintendent and the start of negotiations with teachers.

The board's next meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 14 in the elementary school library.

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