Centers that provide support services to school districts across Ohio could see tens of millions in combined state funding cuts over two years under Republican Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget.
The potential cuts in funding for the 55 Educational Service Centers, or ESCs, could total up to $91 million and lead to higher charges to districts, the Dayton Daily News reported. The ESCs provide districts with shared services such as speech and physical therapists, school nurses and curriculum and attendance supervisors.
Kasich budget spokesman Jim Lynch has said that each center in Ohio would have its state funding cut by 22.5 percent in fiscal year 2014 and 27.2 percent the next fiscal year. Also, funds previously deducted and sent to service centers to support mandated services would be returned to districts.
The centers currently are paid $6.50 per pupil for such services as curriculum, gifted supervision and bus driver trainings. They also receive supervisory services funding for curriculum and special education.
Under the governor’s plan, the state money going to the support centers would instead go to local districts and changes would be made to the way the centers’ governing boards are structured.
By law, the centers are not able to put tax levies before voters, so they get most of their revenue from charging other districts for services, according to Craig Burford, executive director of the Ohio Educational Service Center Association.
Senate Education Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican, says quality differs among centers, and the changes would give everyone the opportunity to buy from the centers with the best services.
Those not providing quality services “will have to step up what they’re doing or find themselves going out of business,” Lehner said.
The Montgomery County support center, which provides services to the 16 school districts in the southwest Ohio county, would lose more than $1 million over the two-year period, the center’s superintendent Frank DePalma said.
DePalma said that will mean increased costs to districts.
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said he expects to see higher costs for ESC services, if the proposed cuts are made.
“That’s actually a cut to local school districts that are receiving serves from ESCs,” St. Pierre said.
The centers also provide support to the state in deploying initiatives and to school districts in implementing federal and state mandates. Burford questions what supports would remain to help districts handle requirements the administration and legislatures have placed on them. Those include teacher and principal evaluations, common core state standards and assessments, among others.
But Lynch said the governor’s plan encourages the centers to “utilize new authority” to provide administrative services directly to local governments. He said Kasich believes local school districts are in the best position to determine their needs and the changes will allow them more freedom to make those decisions.
Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, believes the impact on districts could vary.
He said it gives some larger locals more dollars “that they can have a little discretion over how they are going to spend it.”