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LIBERTY Schools see shortfall for at-risk pupils



Published: Mon, May 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The school district is not receiving its full share of state money for students from Belmont Pines.

LIBERTY -- School district officials are working to resolve a shortfall of state funding for students who have been placed at Belmont Pines.

"It's like we're in a Catch-22," said Superintendent Lawrence C. Prince.

Belmont Pines is a residential treatment facility for at-risk students. Because the facility is in the Liberty School District, the district is required by law to provide an education for the residents there. Right now, that's 35.

Partial reimbursement: The problem is that the district is receiving only partial reimbursement from the state for those students, Prince said. The exact amount of the shortfall won't be known until June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Prince said it's the result of the state's highly complex laws controlling school finances. The primary problem is a formula that limits the amount of money. State funding for school districts is based on a percentage of what they got the previous year.

The students from Belmont Pines the district is required to serve caused it to exceed that cap. "Under ideal conditions we would be in a break-even situation, but that isn't happening," Prince said.

The district contracts with the Trumbull County Educational Service Center to provide the services for Belmont Pines students, but isn't getting enough state money back to cover the cost.

Affected by cap: Liberty is one of 66 districts affected by the cap, which the Ohio Supreme Court has said is one of the elements that must be addressed by the Legislature when it develops a new school-funding formula.

Liberty officials were originally told that the state would redirect money from the Belmont Pines students' home districts to Liberty, but that has not happened.

Despite the "unintended consequence" for the district, the state cannot correct the problem without a legislative change, Prince said.

Drafting legislation: The school district has retained legal counsel to draft such legislation.

Prince said school officials have been working since August 2000 to resolve the problem.

Besides meeting with the Ohio Department of Education, they are also pushing for legislation that will correct the flaws in the state's formula, he said.




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