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Educators from area decry cuts



Published: Fri, February 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The governor said local districts should know by early March the extent of cuts.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

Local public school officials are expressing frustration over proposed cuts in state aid that could affect district budgets before the end of the school year

"It's a serious blow to education," said Campbell Superintendent James Ciccolleli. "Once again we're facing these issues in education. We felt this funding issue was resolved by the Supreme Court decision.

" ... It's very disappointing. It's disheartening."

Gov. Bob Taft said Thursday that school districts should know by early March how much of a cut they will receive in state aid.

"We can't give you the final numbers on how that will be allocated until we first know the final version of the bill," Taft said in an interview in Columbus.

"Once we know that we'll have to sit down and we will determine how much the cut will have to be in the area of education," he said, but added that the cut could go as high as 2.5 percent.

Ciccolleli said his district is the second-lowest in wealth in Mahoning County and would stand to lose $200,000. That could mean that teachers receive fewer materials and supplies.

"It's going to be something that makes us really tighten our belts," he said. "The end result is that who is going to suffer is the children."

What could help, the superintendent said, is an easing by the state on restrictions that are placed on "parity funding," given to low-wealth districts.

'Taxed out'

Ciccolleli said the district could not likely withstand a tax increase.

"How much can you tax the people?" he said. "We're taxed out."

Lynn Gibson, president of Warren Board of Education, said, "It will be devastating."

The last time board members reviewed the numbers, they were expecting the cut to be $815,000.

The district already has reduced this year's budget and cut $4 million from next year's budget to stave off a deficit.

Next year's cuts include closing two elementary schools at the end of this school year.

"We are a poor community," Gibson said. "We have a lot of senior citizens who are on fixed incomes. We are not able to go to our citizens for a property tax increase."

Youngstown School Board President Lock P. Beachum Sr. said he had not yet seen the details of the proposal but is confident the district will work to make sure academic programs are not affected. The state has placed the district in academic emergency.

"Public education is, nationally, under attack," Beachum said. "But I do believe it is a business, and public education has to be as competitive as private education."

Dependent on state

"It's devastating," said Patrick Guliano, Niles superintendent. "It's even more devastating to smaller urban districts because of declining valuation. We're very dependent on state funding."

Although higher education is being hit hard by the cuts, they have another source for funding -- the ability to raise tuition.

"We can't do that," Guliano said. "We only have so many sources."

He said officials haven't determined how the cuts will affect the district.

"We have some difficult decisions to make," Guliano said.

West Branch treasurer Karen Elsner said officials have been watching cuts very closely. Original numbers showed the district losing about $300,000, but Elsner said other plans would place districts on a scale that might lessen the blow.

"At this point in the year, any kind of cost-cut measures are for naught," she said. "... We run a lean, mean machine to begin with. I feel there's not a lot of fat in our budget."

The budget proposal also recommends cutting up to 2.5 percent from budgets for higher education.

Cuts to higher education

At Youngstown State University, that would mean a loss of about $1.1 million by the end of June.

Officials are examining the current budget and considering options for making cuts, said Ron Cole, YSU's manager of news and information services.

"At the same time, President Sweet remains committed to maintaining educational quality to our students regardless of any budget cuts," Cole said.

No additional tuition increase is under consideration at this time, Cole said. A tuition increase would be "difficult if not impossible" because the university is in the middle of a semester, he said.

David Allen, dean of Kent State University Trumbull Campus, said he hasn't seen the numbers yet, but he expects a minimal impact on the campus.

Numbers released by the Ohio Board of Regents show the campus losing about $125,000.

"We're hopeful that the decline in funding for education in general and higher education specifically will be reversed and the trend will start back upward," Allen said.

The need for a well-educated citizenry has been demonstrated time and again because it pays off, the dean said.

"Once they get the hole in the budget patched up, there's a renewed emphasis on education," he said.

"They're going to need it."




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