Sunday, June 11, 2000

Reward for school-funding solution

Associated Press Writer

        COLUMBUS — Pitching a plan to fix Ohio's school funding problems came naturally to Rhea Merrell, who spent 31 years in education.

        The 94-year-old retired teacher and education consultant was one of 15 finalists in a Democratic lawmaker's contest for the best solution to those problems.

        Rep. Bryan Flannery, D-Lakewood, announced the winner last week and talked about his plans to introduce legislation based on the solution he thought was best.

        “Funding in Ohio schools reminds me of the family who bought a pet, overfed him the first day, then let him starve the rest of the week,” Ms. Merrell said in a letter proposing a monthly budgeting process using a percentage of tax revenue provided to local schools.

        Ms. Merrell spent her career in Portage County and now lives in Columbus.

        Bill Buckel of Columbus won the $1,000 offered by Mr. Flannery for the best idea. Mr. Buckel proposed a three-part funding system that reduces the percentage of local property taxes that provide money for schools, with state tax revenue being used to make up the difference.

        Mr. Buckel, 70, is a retired librarian at Battelle Memorial Institute. A Democrat, he has run unsuccessfully several times for Congress and the Columbus school board. He faces Rep. Deborah Pryce on Nov. 7 in the race for the 15th Ohio District congressional seat.

        Mr. Flannery said he wasn't aware Mr. Buckel was running for office. He said he hoped that wouldn't taint people's perception of Mr. Buckel's plan.

        Mr. Flannery's proposed legislation would reduce the percentage of school funding coming from local property taxes from 51 percent to about 40 percent.

        To make up the difference, the state would have to increase school funding by $1.7 billion annually. Mr. Flannery, whose plan doesn't involve a tax increase, said he believes Ohio can find the money.

        “This is a historic day because we have here today people from all over our state of Ohio who submitted ideas to fix one of the biggest problems Ohio has ever had to face,” Mr. Flannery said.

        His contest attracted 175 entries, including proposals to tax political donations, food, environmental polluters and toilet paper, and to charge fees to students who miss school.

        Dozens more serious proposals were submitted, including a plan by factory worker Richard Carpenter, 57, of Bucyrus. He proposed pooling property tax revenue from around the state, then redistributing the money evenly to all districts.

        “Just because you happen to be born in an affluent district, does that innately give you the right to a better education?” he said. “There are many bright kids in poor districts that don't have the advantages of a good education.”


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