Monday, April 26, 2004

Cincinnati hit hard by changes in state funding


Education

Click here to e-mail Denise Smith Amos
More than 120 Cincinnati-area parents, teachers and school administrators on Wednesday testified before three members of the governor's blue-ribbon committee on school funding.

To summarize the sometimes-emotional exchange: the school funding mechanism in Ohio is broken; fix it so schools get a fair share of Ohio funds.

Make the way Ohio pays for public schools easier to understand, they said, so taxpayers can better track where their money is going.

And give education highest priority, funding its needs first and paying special attention to school systems in Cincinnati and its surrounding suburbs, they said.

One Cincinnati parent, Mark Turner, an aeronautical engineering professor, accused lawmakers of intentionally making the funding system too complex for even legislators to police.

"The state uses mystery math to fund its schools," said Turner, who has two children in public schools.

Cincinnati schools are among the hardest hit by changes in state funding.

The district serves mostly poor students - 62 percent of its students qualify for federal free and reduced-price lunches.

But the district contains more high-value commercial property than most districts. When Ohio adjusts funding to school systems, property values mean more than income levels.

Districts like Cincinnati are expected to fund most of their education through local property taxes, while the state sends more tax dollars to regions with low property values, such as rural and Appalachian districts, said state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, during a phone interview.

Changes in how income levels are measured and cuts in the school system's cost-of-doing-business adjustment cost Cincinnati public schools $18.6 million in state dollars in 2002 and 2003, said Michael Geoghegan, the Cincinnati schools treasurer.

The current proposed two-year budget includes other losses for Cincinnati, he said:

• Changing the way attendance is counted might cost $9 million over two years.

• Phasing out a business property tax exemption will cost $230,000 a year over 10 years.

• Phasing out personal property taxes on business inventories will cost $750,000 a year over three years, then $1.5 million a year after that.

"The state gave with one hand and took away with the other," he said.

Seitz said cutting business taxes is smart during a recession. He said urban districts should be allowed to recoup revenues from rising property values, but, by law, they can't.

Property owners have had enough taxes, Geoghegan said.

"Our local voters have stepped up to the plate to support the children ... They rightfully believe that it is the state's responsibility to do the same."

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E-mail damos@enquirer.com




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