School treasurers talk funding woes for districts

Greg Sowinski 419-993-2090 •

October 18, 2013

LIMA — A change in the way the state helps fund local school districts is translating to less money for some districts and more worries on how to make it up.

People are paying less in individual income tax which was cut by 31 percent over five years — welcome news for strapped taxpayers — but local school treasurers said it’s an example of a cut at the state level that translates to less money for some districts.

“I’m concerned the average voter doesn’t understand the shift,” said Joel Parker, the treasurer for Elida schools.

That shift ultimately could translate to Elida schools going to taxpayers with another levy. Parker is concerned taxpayers are becoming weary of levies and may say enough is enough.

School treasurers from Allen County met Thursday for a discussion at The Lima News about school funding and the complicated methods state officials come up, and often change, for school districts.

The changes often mean less money, $1.6 million for Elida, and few ways to make up the money other than go to taxpayers with a levy or cuts at the district, Parker said.

“It’s a huge reason why, if we were fully funded based on our enrollment, there’s probably a good chance we would not have to go back to the ballot,” Parker said.

For Lima schools, Treasurer Ryan Stechschulte said the district has to account for $6.5 million less with the 6.25 percent cap, or maximum contribution of funding, in place.

“We have to live with the means we have,” Stechschulte said.

The state said each district in Ohio must provide a thorough and adequate education, and sets a number of requirements to gauge whether districts meet that statement.

State funding is distributed in one of two ways, by a cap or guarantee.

The cap is a maximum amount a district gets while the guarantee promises the districts the same amount of funding from the previous year. The rest of a district’s money comes from local funding.

The change in school funding has meant Delphos schools implemented cuts to remain in the black on the balance sheet, Treasurer Brad Rostorfer said.

“We made a good business decision and because we didn’t spend it the way they wanted us to, we’re going to be forced to send some of it back. It just doesn’t make sense,” Rostorfer said.

All the strings attached means each district, although each with different needs, have strict requirements on how the money can be spent with no wiggle room.

Treasurers also struggle to try to plan for the future but an ever-changing funding formula often prevents them from making any firm plans, they said.

“There is no real consistent way to know, to predict what is going to happen in the next five years,” Apollo Career Center Treasurer Greg Bukowski said. “You can’t be innovative.”

For Elida, Parker said the system has cut 43 positions in the past decade as well as taken steps to streamline services, all while working hard to makes sure students still continue to get a quality education.

“The demands keep going up, but I don’t think it’s being matched with dollars,” Parker said.

When asked what solutions they would make if they were in Columbus, Stechschulte said he would pick one method to figure out the cost of a proper education and go from there including making sure it’s properly funded.

Other treasurers agree there needs to be one way and want consistency that will help them plan for the future.

For Elida, if the district decides against seeking another levy officials will have to look at cutting services such as making kindergarten a half day again or cutting bus service to the high school, Parker said.

At Spencerville schools, Treasurer Diane Eutsler said everyone is taking on more tasks as demands grow but the money does not.

“They’ve taken on more and not for anything more. You do what you have to. Our teachers have done that in the classroom,” she said.

Rostorfer said each round of cuts has been tough. The last round, three years ago, meant cutting teachers.

“I like to sit here and say we can’t survive another round of cuts but we would do what we have to do. I don’t know at what point it all blows up,” Rostorfer said.