Senate proposes $4.5 million for county’s schools

District 2 Senator Randy Gardner announced Monday that the state Senate’s budget plan proposes more than $4.5 million be split among Fulton County’s seven school districts.

Gardner, whose Senate seat oversees a portion of Fulton County, said the new state aid would be alloted over the next two years. By his estimates, the Senate budget plan offers the local school districts $2.4 million more than the House version and $4.6 million more than Gov. John Kasich’s proposal.

In fact, Gardner said, the overall Senate increase for the county’s schools is among the highest in Ohio.

However, Gardner cautioned that the Senate’s Budget Education Plan, which has been accepted but not yet passed, could undergo changes during a visit to a joint House-Senate Conference Committee.

“While this is good news for Fulton County schools, it’s not the final version of the bill,” he said. “It’s important where we stand today, but I don’t want people to think this is the final word.”

Both Senate hearings and a floor vote will be conducted next week. The deadline for final passage is June 30.

The Senate’s version of the proposed state budget is the third. Gov. John Kasich introduced his Feb. 3, and the House passed its version, House Bill 64, in April.

The approximately $4.5 million amount was determined through a complicated formula that takes into account property valuation, a school district’s student population, a technology funding component, and a performance index that looks at both graduation rates and third grade reading test results.

The county school districts will not receive identical percentage increases.

Wauseon Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Larry Brown remarked, “It’s good that an emphasis on educati0n is being brought into the process for this budget cycle.”

The Swanton school district appreciates Gardner’s and other politicians’ efforts to keep its best interests, and those of Fulton County taxpayers, in mind through the budget process, Superintendent Jeff Schlade said.

But it’s also important to remember that the Senate’s budget version is simply a stage in the process, he said.

“Changes in the Senate version alone could still take place over the next week or so, and after that, a conference committee will need to meet to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions,” Schlade said.

Eric Belcher, superintendent of Fayette Local Schools, is cautiously optimistic. He said historically the final draft of the state budget doesn’t tend to swing much from the Senate’s version.

What concerns him is the Current Agricultural Use Valuation tax, which Belcher said is greatly–and incorrectly–inflating the value of Fayette’s school district. As a result, Gov. Kasich’s budget proposal reduces the district’s take by nearly seven percent.

“The governor’s version considered us more wealthy than Archbold or Wauseon. When they changed (CAUV) it greatly affected our model,” he said.

Belcher said until the budget is finalized it’s simply a waiting game. “It’s politics. We never know what to expect,” he said.

But he praised Gardner and District 47 State Representative Barbara Sears for their determination to direct state funding to school districts in their regions.

Gardner said he keeps an eye toward school districts that have quality schools but are without a significant funding base.

“I do believe that smaller rural districts that are successful deserve the best shake possible because there’s not a lot of industry,” he said.

Gardner added, “While the Senate plan is strong progress for schools, taxpayers and a more affordable college education, work remains to be done in the weeks ahead.”