LIMA— Gov. John Kasich says he wants more collaboration in education, but school officials wonder how that can be true when his proposed budget cuts funding to Educational Service Centers.
The proposal seems to defy logic, Allen County ESC Superintendent John Rockhold said.
“We are providing the services that only our school districts and others in the community want and need that we can do effectively at less cost than they can do it otherwise,” Rockhold said. “It is a shared services model to save taxpayers money, and this budget proposal kind of flies in face of the beyond-boundaries model that they have created.”
Statewide, the ESC operating subsidy will be reduced from $35.6 million in 2013 to $26.7 million in 2014 and $21.36 in 2015.
The Allen County ESC currently gets $292,328 from the state, $25.36 per pupil. That will drop to $19.02 in 2014 and to $15,22 in 2015. By law, an ESC cannot take a tax levy to voters.
Putnam County Superintendent Jan Osborn said his ESC got about $270,000 12 years ago but gets only $152,000 this year. That is expected to drop to less than $120,000 under Kasich’s proposal.
“I’ve heard that the goal is to get funding closest to students as possible, and I support that part,” Osborn said. “But I also believe there are many functions and roles that we can play that are cost-effective and help with efficiency and improve the quality of education for children.”
On top of the operating subsidy, ESCs currently get $6.50 per pupil to support quiz bowl, spelling bees, gifted supervision, bus driver trainings and physicals, substitute teacher recruitment, and teacher applications and certifications. The Allen County ESC spends $20,000 a year just on quiz bowl. Under Kasich’s proposal, the money would stay in districts instead of going to the ESC.
“If we are going to continue to do those kinds of things, we are going to have to have a different business model with our schools,” Rockhold said. “Many of those aspects I am sure they will want to keep.”
The Putnam County ESC partners with the schools and even the village of Ottawa to offer programs. Osborn said the program list is long, including its migrant school.
“There becomes a point when it becomes impossible to keep those things going,” he said.
Money for preschool pupils with disabilities also is leaving ESCs and going directly to districts. School districts are required to serve those students, but Rockhold said most in the county don’t have enough of them to start their own classroom. It would not be cost effective, he said.
District officials are not sure where the money redirected to them is. Bath schools Superintendent Dale Lewellen asked if the money is part of funding estimates released by the state last week or additional funds. Bath is one of the few local districts to expect an increase in state funding. Estimates show it getting 25 percent increases each year of the two-year budget, but Lewellen said that extra money could quickly go away if Bath has to pay the ESC for services.
“If we still need those services, and many of us will, we are going to have to pay the ESC for those services,” he said. “If less are utilizing them, the expense is going to be higher, and those districts that are getting no increase are actually getting a decrease. It is just the shell game. We have seen it happen so many times, and I am concerned that it is happening again.”
Sixty percent of school districts in the state will not see any increases in state funding during the next two years. That is true for many in the region, including all of Putnam County.
Allen East schools also isn't getting an increase. Superintendent Michael Richards said if the ESC is forced to charge districts for needed services, his district will lose funding.
“That creates a burden” Richards said. “It is a little bit of a hidden cost. … It is going to cost us more out of our carryover and balance.”
There is a point, he said, where districts might have to look at funding programs themselves. A change in the law a few years ago also permits districts to shop around among ESCs for the best bargain.
“We certainly don’t want to do that,” Richards said. “We are an Allen County school and feel really good about the Allen County ESC and what they do, but at some point we have to protect our taxpayers and investment of our school dollars.”
Osborn supports the governor’s budget proposal's promise to provide more funding for children with disabilities and at-risk preschool children. He just hopes ESCs can be part of that work and that ongoing dialogue can continue.
“I am supportive of the overall picture, but I don’t think we should be penalized any more than anyone else,” he said. “But I am optimistic that we can make the point that they need to invest in ESCs.”
Bath Superintendent Dale Lewellen
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