Group hopes to help with school funding problem

September 8th, 2006    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

If one were to rank familiar sights around the region, signs pleading with voters to pass a school levy would be high on the list.

Year after year, schools have repeatedly asked for levies and bond issues to shore up what they say is a funding system that is in a constant state of erosion. To back up their claims, schools discuss a state funding system that has apparently been ruled illegal by the Ohio Supreme Court, a mysterious “phantom tax revenue” and a number of other sinister forces that threaten to pull the money rug out form under students.

A Milford group known as Ohio Citizens for School Funding Reform is hoping to challenge this cycle of tax and beg that surrounds levies. Linda Malott, a member of the group, said that an informational meeting scheduled for Sept. 12 is hoped to create a spark of understanding in the general public when it comes to school funding.

“We started at the end of the school year last year, when the levy failed to pass,” said Malott. “There was an awareness that funding for schools also seems to have a state funding component that keeps coming up. Our initial effort has been a letter campaign to state legislators indicating that we want to learn more and see some changes made. This meeting is part of our effort to learn more. People are interested in learning, and they are welcome to come by, because these speakers understand the funding and can answer questions.”

The OCSFR only recently began holding meetings in earnest after breaking for the summer. According to Malott, the first meeting was held in August and it is hoped that monthly meetings will follow. Currently, about 25 parents are involved in the organization, whose goal is to bring about school funding reform through a clearer understanding of how the system works. Malott said that more members are welcome, if anyone is interested, and it’s hoped that the upcoming meeting will spark some interest.

“We’re all volunteers, and it’s basically parents,” said Malott. “Anyone is welcome to join if they’re interested in helping to reach the legislators and find new ways or avenues to generate funds for the schools. We don’t have the answers yet, we’re trying to get to that point.”

The meetings will feature two guest speakers who, as a matter of daily routine, deal with school funding issues and are considered to be experts in the field. David Varda, Executive Director of Ohio Association of School Business Officials will give on overall discussion on school funding issues and will also discuss a number of terms, such as “phantom revenue,” that is often associated with school funding problems.

Barbara Shaner, Director of Legal Services for the same organization, will discuss some of the issues regarding enacting school funding reform.

“This is an informational event,” said Malott. “A lot of people, including us, are not well-versed on how school funding works, and how that affects us here. We’re inviting people in who deal with these issues every day at the state level.”

By understanding the issue better, Malott says that the OCSFR hopes to be able to formulate strategies that can be passed on to legislators, whom they hope will try to enact them. Malott said that they hope similar groups will join in around the state and help create a lasting reform.

“We haven’t come up with ideas and answers yet, because we’re not at that stage,” said Malott. “That is the goal though, and we recognize that there are other groups around the state that have those same goals and issues. More and more funding is relying on the local part, and we want to see more from the state. More and more schools are putting levies out there, which indicates that it’s more than just a local issue.”

That, however, could be a problem, as the issue itself has consistently shown itself to be complicated and confusing. Until now, many voters have ignored the issue so long as their school is operating, and shown frustration when a levy failure threatens that operation. Learning the ins and outs will be an important part of fixing the problem.

“Like many things, you don’t learn the details because it’s very complicated,” said Malott. “Some of the laws that direct how money is distributed have been on the books for years. It may be time to change them. It appears that changes need to be looked at, and that is very complicated. As long as levies pass and you’re happy with where the schools are, everything is fine. When things change though, a lot of school systems are seeing cutbacks. As a parent, you realize you have to learn about how things work. You need to become aware.”

For more information, go online at www.ocsfr.com. The meeting will be held on Sept. 12 at the Milford High School Auditorium at 7 p.m.

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