Editor's note: this editorial was submitted by Kent City Schools Superintendent Joseph Giancola. Patch does not endorse election candidates or ballot issues.
To read more about Issue 8, the 8.9-mill school operating levy on the May 7 ballot, click on this link.
-Editor Matt Fredmonsky
State funding of Ohio Schools has been debated for decades. Our local board of education, the Ohio Legislature, and even the Ohio Supreme Court have engaged in heated discussions without 100 percent agreement. The beauty of our democratic freedoms is that we can debate and ultimately work together for the common good of future generations. Public education’s primary goal of nurturing the development of our children must not be lost in the debate about school finance in Ohio.
In this article, I want to point out how state funding overall has not always maintained its share of the bargain as a partner with local boards of education. That is, local communities have been required to make up the difference created by cuts in state funding. Let me explain.
Ever since 1976, Ohio House Bill 920 has curtailed the growth in revenue needed by public schools in order to keep up with inflation. As a result, local boards of education must ask voters for increases in property taxes that were frozen at the level of the last levy. This cycle tends to repeat itself every four years or so. In Kent Schools, we have accepted the challenge of this cycle of property tax requests by stretching our last four-year levy to seven years! Careful fiscal management is our only method to survive the brief levy cycles and flat funding caused by HB920.
Our greatest problem, however, is not that flat funding is impossible to address. Our problem is worse than flat funding. Rather, recent decreases of $2.3 million in state funding to Kent add to the problems of flat budgeting that I described earlier.
I recognize that Kent Schools are asking for an increase in local funding when some citizens may not have had raises in several years. Actually, Kent staff members have taken base salary and wage freezes too. Similarly, you may say that Kent Schools have not had a raise in seven years. In fact, it has had decreases in state funding. With these decreases, Kent Schools cannot keep abreast of increasing expenses such as fuel costs, ongoing facilities maintenance, and operationalcosts of living.
We could accept the state formula if promises were kept. The basic state formula is a legislated amount per pupil multiplied by the number of pupils in a school district. However, other formula calculations reduce the actual amount distributed to school districts. Kent is substantially affected by these reductions.
At the same time that mechanics of state funding can hurt Kent Schools, senior citizens have benefited from the recent expansion of the Homestead Exemption. The Homestead Exemptionis essentially a 25 percent discount on property taxes owed for the first $100,000 of a home’s market value. Senior citizens or permanently disabled persons may take advantage of this discount on owner-occupied homes by a one-time application to the County Auditor.
As Kent citizens, we need to understand why an 8.9-mill levy is on the May 7 ballot. Local taxpayers are being asked to support their schools partially because the state has not been an equal partner in funding its commitments to Kent Schools.
Even those on a limited income or with no school-age children have important reasons to support Kent Schools. In our recent 2012 Community Survey, 97 percent of respondents agreed that the high quality of our schools has a direct effect on home property values. Also, 92 percent of respondents agreed that the quality of education in Kent is worth their tax dollars.
As Superintendent and ultimate spokesperson for Kent’s children, I want to close with a commitment to Kent taxpayers. Our sole purpose is the education of Kent children. All of our programs, extracurriculars, and transportation are designed for that purpose. Our singular mission is doing what is best for students. Transforming these words into action is what’s needed right now. “Let’s invest in excellence today!”
Superintendent, Kent City Schools