Frustrated state lawmakers discuss school funding with Valley superintendents
By Jordan Cohen
Area school superintendents complained in a meeting with state legislators Friday about the proposed cutback of $600 million in public-school funding and the money they have to pay to charter schools.
The legislators, all Democrats, did not give them much reason for optimism.
Schools “have less money than they’ve ever had,” said state Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd.
“We’re frustrated,” said state Rep. Ron Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th.
Gerberry and Cafaro, along with state Sen. Joseph Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, and state Rep. John Patterson of Jefferson, D-99th, were invited to discuss the state of school funding by the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, which has quarterly meetings with the legislators.
One issue upsetting the superintendents is money their districts have to pay to charter schools that take their students.
“I get [$3,400] from the state for each student, but if that student goes to a charter school, I have to write a check for nearly $9,000,” complained Robert Wilson, Lakeview superintendent. “We’re paying out $300,000 a year to those schools who don’t even have the same standards we do.”
Wilson said the reason for the disparity is that the state requires the schools to cover other costs such as local funding in addition to the money received from the state. He said Trumbull school districts pay more than $11 million yearly to charter schools when students transfer.
Another point of contention is that charter schools do not have the account-ability required of public schools — an issue the Democratic legislators said they have unsuccessfully attempted to change.
“There’s no transparency, and that’s the way [Republicans] like it,” Gerberry said.
Several school superintendents said the proposed cutbacks will make their operations nearly unsustainable.
“We’ve had no new money since 1991, and people don’t seem interested in supporting our levy,” said Paul Woodard, Newton Falls superintendent. “It’s deteriorating our education across the board.”
Schiavoni said he did not want the meeting to turn into “Republican bashing,” and hoped that there could be an “opportunity for compromise.” He noted that Kasich asked for “reasonable alternatives” to his budget plan when the governor spoke in Boardman on Thursday.
Gerberry said he didn’t think the governor means it.
“That’s bull ... ” said a visibly angry Gerberry. “He wants to expand charter schools and vouchers, and dismantle public education.”
Charter schools and state cutbacks were not the only issues upsetting the superintendents. LaBrae Superintendent A. J. Calderone said the state needs to address security and should not expect school employees to carry firearms.
“We need money from Columbus for armed personnel who are not teachers or janitors, but licensed officers,” Calderone said.
“The Legislature is doing an excellent job … of killing Ohio public schools,” said Larry Sherer, a Lake-view board of education member.
Patterson said that regardless of the situation, school officials need to let every legislator know how serious their situations are. “We need your help down there,” he said.