Districts support new school funding proposal

As experts at Washington County school districts work through the implications of the proposed state budget changes for education, the potential benefits for the two smallest districts in the county are becoming clearer.

Both Frontier Local Schools, with an enrollment of about 585 students, and Wolf Creek, with 614, stand to gain funding over the next two years if the Cupp-Patterson proposal becomes part of the next state budget. The proposal has been in the works for a year and half, with two legislators having created a consulting network of school administrators, board members and other education and lawmaking experts in an effort to replace the state’s current system for funding schools, which lacks balance and fairness. The next step is for the new system to go through committee and form part of the 2019-2020 budget.

Frontier, according to rough estimates released Friday, would stand to gain about $481,000 in the two fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22 combined, provided enrollment remains steady. Treasurer Lee Howard said further declines in enrollment are expected, but any increase in state aid would be welcome.

“We’re guaranteed no reduction for those two years, and at least that’s a relief,” she said. “However, it’s based on enrollment, and we have lost and will continue to lose students every year, so eventually we will probably see a loss in funding.”

Howard also noted that the figures are approximations, in part based on poverty data that might not be accurate.

The figures issued Friday included a cautionary note: “The primary purpose of these estimates is to determine a total state obligation. Changes between estimates and actual aid may be significant, especially for individual school districts.”

Wolf Creek Local Schools could gain about $620,000 over the first two years of the system.

“It’s an increase, but we don’t receive an exceptionally high amount of state aid anyway,” superintendent Doug Baldwin said. “Any time we get an increase, that’s good. In the past few years we’ve actually seen a decline.”

Baldwin said a more promising prospect is the addition to the education budget proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine, which would add $550 million for wrap-around services – preschool education, mental and behavioral health – as an add-on to the legislature’s proposal.

“I’m really excited that they’re talking about preschool, early childhood education,” he said. “It’s nice to see the state government looking at education of all children and their needs, medical, mental health, early childhood.”

Baldwin, like other local administrators, was cautiously optimistic.

“It’s encouraging that the proposal has support on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “(Rep. Robert) Cupp and (Rep. John) Patterson had a good plan, and they had a good team.”

Although the Cupp-Patterson proposal would be revenue-neutral for Fort Frye Local Schools, superintendent Stephanie Starcher said she still finds it worthy of support.

“Supposedly, over 500 districts of the 600 in Ohio would get additional funding, and it would be difficult to find a proposal with bipartisan support that would help more districts than that,” she said. “It’s difficult to criticize something that would benefit so many districts.”

The proposal would do away with the guarantee and cap – formulas in the current system that set a floor and ceiling on the funding of many districts.

“We’re on the guarantee, and I would worry about the long term if that’s gone,” Starcher said. Like Baldwin, she said she supports DeWine’s proposed measure.

“We’re just hoping the money for wrap-around services comes through,” she said. “We’ve been asking for that.”

The need for mental health and social services in districts across Ohio and particularly those in Appalachia has become more acute as a result of the opioid crisis, and several Washington County districts have engaged third party community health organizations to provide services to students and their families.

Funding changes estimated under Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding proposal

Potential changes from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, and fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021

•Belpre City Schools: Additional $422,743, and $301,402.

•Fort Frye Local Schools: $0, and $0.

•Frontier Local Schools: $291,370, and $189,763.

•Marietta City Schools: $487,479, and $335,479.

•Warren Local Schools: $7,380, and (-$7,380).

•Wolf Creek Local Schools: $420,903, and $198,285.

Source: Cupp-Patterson report.


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