If the final numbers of Ohio’s biennial school funding remain close to current projections, Fulton County school districts will receive a mixed bag that may leave some superintendents disappointed.
But while some local school districts will be treated better than others, there is shared concern over the significant loss of revenue from the tangible personal property tax (TPP) due to a veto by Gov. John Kasich.
The Wauseon school district is projected to get a little more than $1 million additional in the coming school year, with an additional $398,474 the following year. But Karen Dameron, the district’s treasurer, said those amounts are very susceptible to change.
“The dollar amounts they provided are not definitive numbers. They’re still at the estimated level,” she cautioned.
She said the school district ended Fiscal Year 2015 in better than normal financial position, thanks to a change in real estate valuations. Reappraisals this year hiked local property worth and put an additional $235,000 in the school district’s coffers.
Dameron said for now the additional state money will go into the school district’s general fund. Because the amounts listed are still speculative “we are just waiting to see,” she said.
Archbold Area Schools are forecasted to receive $182,813 this school year, with an additional $119,552 for the following fiscal year. That’s a combined 5.9 percent raise over two years.
And while Superintendent Aaron Rex is grateful for the extra funding, he worries about Kasich’s elimination of the TPP tax. Archbold schools typically receive $2 million annually from the tax’s revenue. Rex is concerned that in state simulations his schools have the potential to lose $150,000 to $200,000 of that amount in 2017.
He said the state assured school districts that none would receive less aid than the prior year, “so we’re kind of holding them to that. My hope is, if they take money away, that they’ll continue to increase our state share to balance it out. Archbold is one of the districts at the lower end, so every two years you kind of hold your breath to see what’s going to happen in the next two years.”
Rex added, “Luckily we’ve been able to reduce costs with stable revenues. Regardless of what happens I don’t see cuts in any programs or classes.”
Fayette Local Schools administrators are very pleased with the district’s projected state aid, Superintendent Erik Belcher said. “This is best-case scenario for Fayette. I would have never imagined that we got what we got. We’re very appreciative.”
The school district is projected to receive $700,328 in state funding for Fiscal Year 2016, a 28 percent increase. It will get an additional $203,641 the following fiscal year.
But the schools’ annual TPP tax revenue is roughly $200,000, and Belcher said his small district can’t afford to lose state aid. Because a large chunk of state funding is based on the student population, “If we lose students we lose funding that goes with it,” he said.
And losing students is already a problem. Belcher said there is a trend of decreasing population in the four-county area that includes Fulton County. Last school year was the first in 15 years that Fayette schools experienced an increase in students from the year before.
“We are so reliant on state money,” he said. “Because we’re such a small school district, any time we lose money it really stings us. Right now we’re in good shape. (But) we’ve got to expect the worst in the next budget cycle.”
For that reason, the school district must remain a good steward of its revenue, “and we’ve got to educate the students the best we can,” Belcher added.
To that end, Chromebooks will be distributed in October to students in grades seven through 12, and digital textbooks will be purchased. Elementary school students will be given Chromebooks during a later phase of the plan.
Superintendent Jeff Schlade is cautiously optimistic there will be little or no change in the estimations for Swanton schools. Projected figures show a total of $387,878 for Fiscal Year 2016, an eight percent bump, and an added $396,256 the following fiscal year.
Still, those figures are based on estimates related to Education Management Information System data, enrollment projections, and other information, Schlade emphasized. And that data reveals a slight but continuing decline in the district’s enrollment, although open enrollment figures show fewer students leaving the district for neighboring schools.
Swanton schools also face what Schlade calls the “factual decreases” that will come with the loss of TPP tax revenue, about $266,000 over the next two years. “Hopefully, that decreased burden on local industry will attract and/or keep additional businesses to the area, but it is one area that we will need to make up for,” he said.
If the projections don’t change, the school district will earmark some or all of the additional funding to a 1:1 computer device initiative over several years. “(W)e have an educational obligation to build upon the technological knowledge our students bring to their school desk each day,” Schlade said.
Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Jay LeFevre has seen several projections, and finds it difficult to know what exactly to expect. The Department of Education estimates show $33,210 expected for 2015-16, and another $106,668 the following fiscal year.
“It appears P-D-Y will get a minimal increase, yet remain at levels below what I believe we should be receiving,” LeFevre said. “The governor’s veto of the TPP component in Fiscal Year 17 negatively impacts on our funding, along with many districts. I feel that P-D-Y, and public education generally, is underfunded, placing an undue stress on the local community.”
He said with a combination of voter support, continued fiscal responsibility, and the assumption of stable state funding, “we should be able to function well for the next several years. “
Evergreen Local Schools haven’t gotten new state money in the last six or seven years, Superintendent Jim Wyse said. “If we received any additional state funds we’ll be happy.”
The school district is projected to get $9,760 in Fiscal Year 2016, and another $223,131 the following fiscal year. Wyse said he doesn’t count the funding until it’s received.
The problem the school district faces lies in the fact that local farm values increase “and (the state) thinks we’re rich, so they cut our funding,” he said. “We’re fortunate our local taxpayers have stepped up and helped. We’d like to see more money coming from Columbus.”
He also would like to be assured the state will honor its guarantee that no school district will receive less funding than the prior year. That argument is still taking place among Kasich and legislators.
The district’s enrollment has dropped in some areas, Wyse said. “If the guarantee is removed we could end up losing quite a lot of money. Our district would be harmed.”
Because the district is primarily agricultural, the TPP tax doesn’t have the same impact as it does in more industrial-based school districts, he said.
“I’m just holding my breath,” Wyse said. “If they don’t take more money away, that would be good for us. Right now, we’re sitting on a decent cash balance, so we can weather a year or two.”
Pettisville Superintendent Steve Switzer was not available for comment.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.