State cuts could mean more local levies

School leaders waiting on details about anticipated state funding cuts will be tuning into Tuesday’s State of the State address to learn some details about Gov. John Kasich’s education plan.

But the information they really need — where the cuts will be and how deep — won’t come until Kasich releases his budget a week later on March 15.

Ohio spent $10.4 billion on education last year when stimulus dollars are included and educators fear that funding commitment could be cut by as much as 20 percent, or $2 billion over the next two years, to help make up the state’s $8 billion budget shortfall.

A more modest 15 percent state funding cut would mean $18 million less to Dayton schools, where officials have been examining areas where they might be able to trim the budget.

Kasich has said he wants to make changes that will result in more money in classrooms. He has been clear that he will scrap the K-12 evidence-based funding program former Gov. Ted Strickland implemented, saying it has been unsuccessful in the states where it has been used.

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Huber Heights City Schools Superintendent William Kirby and other school leaders worry that cuts in state funding will require districts to go to the voters for revenue more often. Twelve Dayton-area school districts have issues on the May 3 ballot, including Huber Heights, which is seeking a 1.5 percent earned income tax that would generate $9.87 million annually.

Last week, district officials served layoff notices to 19 teachers and four administrators as part of an approved reduction in force of 42 employees over the next two years as the district tries to cut $3 million from its budget. Another 19 classified employees, including aides and school secretaries, will be notified in the next two weeks, Kirby said.

Leaders of Ohio’s state colleges and universities are facing a similar squeeze, but may get a little wiggle room from relaxed state regulations. They got a peek at Kasich’s higher education agenda last week when he appointed Jim Petro as the next Ohio Board of Regents chancellor.

Petro has said the funding cuts will be significant, but not as bad as many educators fear.

“The loss of funding is not going to be monumental,” Petro said. “It will mean sharing services and examining other alternatives.”

Petro has pushed for “charter universities” that would combine both reductions in state funding with less oversight. It’s an idea Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council representing the state’s 14 public schools, said university leaders would embrace; they want “less state supervision” for purchasing, construction and collective bargaining.

“I’m talking about the notion of a charter function where some constraints that might create inefficiency can be lifted,” Petro said. “There is a little concern if we let it go too far. We have to look at it very carefully.”

Concerns are spreading that budget cuts and less oversight could have unintended consequences for schools, especially those where affordability is a top priority.

“It is a further step towards the privatization of higher education,” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, a Wright State University economics professor and member of the American Association of University Professors union.

Petro believes Kasich’s speech will show a continued commitment to education.

“Our principal avenue for job creation and economic growth is through higher education,” Petro said.

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