By Jordan Cohen
Frank Danso, interim superintendent of Niles schools, hopes a funding bill that passed the Ohio House will help his financially strained district overcome its deficit, but two area legislators are unsure how much money will be available.
The bill has moved to the Ohio Senate.
“We don’t know how the money is going to be divided up, and that’s the big question,” said state Rep. Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, D-63rd, whose district includes Niles. “We can only hope that the money will go to those districts like Niles and Brookfield that need it most first.”
Niles schools have been in fiscal watch since 2003. The situation is worse for Brookfield and Liberty schools, which are in fiscal emergency and whose finances are under the control of financial planning and supervision commissions.
State Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, is less optimistic, however. “My opinion is that it doesn’t help, but it doesn’t hurt, although it does provide something in the way of increases,” Letson said.
Last month, Niles voters soundly rejected levies for operations and permanent improvements by margins exceeding 69 percent. Danso said, however, that until the school-funding legislation, referred to as House Bill 59, is decided, discussion on resubmitting any levy would be premature.
“We won’t know until around the end of the month about how much money we’ll get,” Danso said. “Assuming it passes, we’ll reconvene and see if it is enough to run our programs this year or [decide] if we need to view another option.”
The superintendent said financial calculations by district Treasurer Linda Molinaro have indicated the district could avoid a deficit at least this upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year should HB 59 become law.
Molinaro’s previous figures have indicated that by 2017, Niles schools could face a projected deficit of $2.9 million. But, with the state funding, that deficit could be eliminated, she said.
State Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, said she believes there could be a better understanding of the bill and its impact as early as today. “We should have our omnibus amendment completed,” she said.
Comments made Tuesday by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor may spur the Legislature into acting quickly. Justice O’Connor told The Columbus Dispatch the Legislature has failed to fix school-funding issues even though the state high court declared the funding system unconstitutional in 2002.
“I’m waiting like everyone else to see what the Legislature and the governor are going to do with [the court ruling],” she told the newspaper.