LIMA — School districts will take every dollar they can get, but officials don’t want the public to confuse casino tax money expected this week to be anything more than what it really is.
“It is nice to get the money, but it is the equivalent of getting a rebate on you cell phone for 50 bucks. In the grand scheme of what we do, it is pretty minor,” said Elida Treasurer Joel Parker of the $53,870 the district expects to get from the state’s first revenues collected from taxes on casino profits.
The disbursement is expected to be paid Thursday and go into districts’ general funds. It is the first allocation since Ohio’s casinos in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo have opened. A fourth casino in Cincinnati is slated to open this spring.
This is the only payment districts will get this year, but next’s year’s check should be a little bigger because all four casinos will be in operation.
The money comes from a 33 percent tax levied on daily gross casino revenues, which is the remaining balance after winners are paid out. Ohio schools will receive 34 percent of the revenue, while 51 percent is divvied out to county governments. An additional five percent is allocated to casino “host” cities.
Districts get just under $21 per pupil. Because it has the largest enrollment in the region, Lima’s check with be the biggest with $80,783. Treasurer Ryan Stechschulte estimated a conservative $50,000 when doing the district’s five-year forecast. Still, the money doesn’t do a whole lot.
“The casino money is appreciated, but people have to understand that we have received the loss of tangible personal property tax and other cuts from the state,” he said. “This casino revenue does not nearly come close to covering what has been cut.”
The district has lost $850,000 from the early phase out of reimbursements districts were getting because of the elimination of tangible personal property taxes. District had been told the reimbursements would continue until 2018.
The Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials surveyed districts around that state and found that no one responding reported that the casino revenue would represent more than two percent of their operating budgets. More than 76 percent said it would make up less than one percent.
Next in line for the most money locally is Wapakoneta schools with $65, 599, followed by Elida’s $53,870 and Shawnee schools’ $53,556. Parker said the money will be less than one percent of its $20 million budget. The amount is equivalent to one starting teacher salary and benefits.
“If the amount is $20 a kid, that does not put a dent in the fact that we just lost roughly $800 a kid in the inventory tax loss and state aid loss,” he said. “The money is nice but it doesn’t by any means solve all the funding problems that are out there.”
Along with public schools, community schools and vocational schools also get casino money. Apollo Career Center will get $34,550, with Vantage Career Center seeing $16,222. The money can only go towards the schools’ high school programs, not adult education.
Apollo Treasurer Greg Bukowski said the money amounts to less than 1 percent of the revenue the school receives. The school has lost more than $400,000 from the phase out of reimbursements.
“Some money is better than no money, but to put it in perspective, if the state comes out and says you got $34,000, sometimes they don’t mention that we were counting on a certain amount and the last biennial budget it was kind of a surprise that it was gone,” he said.
Both Apollo and Elida will have levies on the ballot in May. Apollo is for a renovation and expansion project and Elida is for operations. Both saw levy defeats in November. The casino money, officials said, does not change their need to be on the ballot.
Van Wert Superintendent Ken Amstutz is happy to take the $42,086 coming his district’s way and said it will help. But he still worries that the money will come only to be taken away later.
“The big concern is how will the state roll this out? Are they going to put the money into our foundation and then reduce our foundation by that amount?” he said. “Is it truly additional money or is it just going to be the shell game they typically play?”
Stechschulte said various state organizations warn districts that the increased casino revenue might be taken into account when the new school funding formula comes out next month. He compared it to lottery money.
“It is true the lottery does go to public education, however the state reduced the amount given to education by the lottery amount. That could happen again,” he said.
Casinos have grossed, after payouts, more than $350 million through December, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission. During that same time, $112 million in casino taxes have been collected.