Taft orders education budget cuts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2003

Schools across Ohio must scramble to find ways to deal with $162 million in cuts to state spending, including $100 million in budget cuts for schools and $39 million in higher education cuts.

Gov. Bob Taft announced the cuts Wednesday, and tried to lessen the impact of the education cuts by changing the formula to a per-pupil basis instead of a percentage.

The education cuts for fiscal year 2003 that ends June 30 included $91 million the state provides for a variety of purposes, including per-pupil funding, funding for gifted, poor and special education students and transportation.

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Six weeks ago, Taft announced a 2.5 percent cut in state funding for all districts. This was strongly opposed by many districts because those that receive a majority of its budget from state funding would have been hurt worse than a district that receives less.

Under the new plan, 500 of the state's 613 districts received a $51.52 cut for every student enrolled.

For 106 wealthy districts, the spending cut was still 2.5 percent. This was necessary because these districts would have faced higher cuts if ordered to use the $51.52 figure, Taft's office said.

The new plan will still force 32 districts into fiscal watch or fiscal emergency, although no school districts in Lawrence County will be in this bad of shape, according to the Ohio School Boards Association.

Knowing state budget cuts were on the horizon, the Dawson-Bryant Board of Education began discussing Monday what these cuts could mean to the district both in the immediate future and

years down the road.

Dawson-Bryant Superintendent James Payne was among those who proposed making a per-pupil cut, and was happy to see this change. Under the proposed 2.5 percent cut, the district would have lost $190,000. The per-pupil cuts will now be less than $100,000, Payne said.

"We are looking at a cut just to get us through this year and also looking at potential problems for the next two years," he said. "My concern is are these the first cuts of two or three more in upcoming months?"

Under the previous proposal, the Dawson-Bryant district would take a big hit because approximately 84 percent of the school district's budget comes from the state. These cuts are the second in three years after suffering a $277,000 cut two years ago, Payne said.

"We have a funding system that that was named unconstitutional four times. Now, they are going to cut it again,"

Payne said. "Just because you live in an impoverished area does not mean you should not have educational opportunities for your kids."

Areas where money could be saved include not filling positions lost due to retirement and not adding new programs, Payne said.

"This is a big deal because these cuts are something that cannot be planned for because the budget cycle is almost over," he said. "Hopefully, districts have provided a contingency plan."

Other districts will be sitting down in coming weeks to look at ways to meet this financial challenge.

"All along they have been saying the cuts were not going to affect education, so we really hadn't been looking at it," Rock Hill Superinten-dent Lloyd Evans said. "One hundred thousand dollars is a considerable amount, so we will have to go back and look at the budget. But a lot of our expenses are set, so we do not have a lot of flexibility."

One area that may see cuts is in maintenance items and purchasing of supplies. Evans said they do have surplus of some things and may have to tighten the spending in these areas.

Ken Cook, superintendent of South Point schools, said it is too early to tell exactly where cuts will have to be made, but they may have to look at the student-to-teacher ratio, and these cuts may make a tough financial situation even worse.

"The bottom line is they are making cuts to a system that has been declared unconstitutional," he said. "They need to adhere to the court's ruling. Right now they are just playing games. All they are doing is hurting districts and hurting the kids."

Ironton Superintendent Stephen Kingery said the district will have try to make sure spending is only done on an emergency basis.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.