Thursday, October 16, 2003

Many pitching in - but it's not enough



Laura Pulfer

I am geographically challenged. When somebody gives me directions, I tell them I won't be offended if they tell me which lane to drive in and how fast to go. Otherwise, I am sure to lose my way.

One day this week, I had a lot of Greater Cincinnati ground to cover, east to west and back. So, I used Ohio routes 562 and 126, known as the Norwood Lateral and the Ronald Reagan Highway. I swooped from one township to another, in and out of the city limits. I could not tell when I passed from a rich school district to one struggling to find the money for textbooks. Not really. Not from the condition of the highway.

This just drives Dave Horine crazy. Superintendent of Mount Healthy City School District, he says state funding for schools is unconstitutional. Of course, he is not the first person to say this. The Ohio Supreme Court has said so on four judicial occasions and told the General Assembly to fix it. Which they will surely do. Tomorrow. Or the day after that. Next year at the very latest.

So, Dave has to ask the voters in his district for money again. Nobody, one might notice, was asked to vote on whether The Ron should be completed or The Lateral should be repaired. The state knows public roads are in the public interest.

But education for the children of this state is optional.

There are 22 school districts in Hamilton County, each charging voters whatever they have agreed to pay. According to the auditor, in 2004 the annual property tax per $100,000 home will be highest ($1,271) in Finneytown and lowest ($712) in Indian Hill. Schools also get money from commercial and industrial property taxes. Which helps explain why Princeton Schools with General Electric, Ford and TriCounty Mall can do so well with a property tax of only $759 per $100,000 home.

Mount Healthy homeowners are taxed $948 per $100,000 home, and the average home sells for about $85,000. Mount Healthy has no big industry. Teacher salaries are the lowest in Hamilton County.

Those are hard numbers.

Here is the touchy-feely stuff. Busing has been cut for high school students.

The district treasurer, Rebecca Brooks, drives a student to school every day. She makes excuses. "He's new. It's on my way." But the truth of the matter is she cares what happens to that boy.

Volunteers drive band members to away games. Parents run Bingo games to keep the football team. A woman who works in food services drove a group of kids to a career forum. Somebody else whipped up a fund-raiser so sixth-graders could see the symphony. The football coach picked up the tab for a couple - OK, more than a couple - of SAT tests.

It's not enough.

On Nov. 4, Mount Healthy voters will be asked to approve an increase of $204 per year for the owner of that mostly nonexistent $100,000 house. About 60 percent of the children in this district qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means they come from families to whom $204 is serious money.

"We've cut everywhere we can think of," Dave says. Costs are increasing. Revenues are not. He's asking voters for money, and he's asking state legislators to give his students, challenged by many things, including the geographic location of their school, to be given the "same educational opportunity as any other kid in the state."

Otherwise, he says, we have all lost our way.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




TALL STACKS
Photo gallery of Day 1
Water taxi is scenic route to Tall Stacks
Bell magicians do it again
Copter takes the high tour
Latin flavor spices up the night
Of white gloves and shady characters
Music doesn't end when festival closes
Underground Railroad alive at Sawyer Town
Admission a bargain, but extras do add up
Running low on cash stack at Tall Stacks? Check deals
McCoury Band bluegrass masters
Daily schedule
What you can do, see elsewhere around town
Tall Stacks gives push to ailing hotel business
Party Scene
Volunteer's journey to past

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ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
Pulfer: Many pitching in - but it's not enough
Howard: Good Things Happening

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