Rocky Fork Enterprise

Gahanna-Jefferson school board

Gonzales extends offer to help eliminate mandates

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The issue of school funding dominated the Sept. 12 Gahanna-Jefferson school board meeting, as state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville) offered a question-and-answer session to the board and public.

She covered a gamut of topics ranging from the Ohio Supreme Court decision more than a decade ago that found Ohio's way of funding schools unconstitutional to changes in the homestead property-tax exemption to unfunded state mandates.

Gonzales said there has been a great deal of work done by Democrats and Republicans since the Ohio Supreme Court's DeRolph decision on funding.

"The problem is when we come up with solutions and present them to the Supreme Court, they shoot them down," she said. "I have three kids in school system, so I get it. We keep giving ideas and they get shot down."

She said the changes to the homestead exemption are part of the state's 2014-15 budget and not for existing levies.

"If you already get it, you're grandfathered in," she said. "It doesn't mean we can't visit (the issue) in next spring. I think we'll look at it one more time."

The homestead exemption has allowed senior citizens age 65 and older and permanently disabled Ohioans to reduce their property taxes by receiving a $25,000 property-tax exemption on the market value of their homes.

With changes to the budget, applicants who turn 65 after Jan 1, 2014, will be subject to a means test to receive the exemption.

"It's an additional burden for those who would have qualified for the homestead exemption," said Superintendent Francis Scruci.

Gonzales said the two high-cost ticket items in the Ohio budget are Medicaid and education funding.

Board member Windy McKenna said it seems like no one wants to put education at the top.

"We are a social-service agency," McKenna said. "We help kids with speech and vision and we have nurses on staff. We have become a social-service agency in addition to educating all these children. ... No one is taking the right approach. My approach would be to put money in education, where it belongs."

McKenna said there are many unfunded mandates handed down to the schools.

"There's so much money taken from us that's going to the charter schools," she said.

Gonzales said to give her a list of the mandates district officials want eliminated.

"I'll work very hard to do it," Gonzales said. "(Gov. John) Kasich got rid of many of (Gov. Ted) Strickland's mandates. Let's have a roundtable at the governor's office. I'll introduce a bill to get rid of a mandate, if you want to come down. Bring your list and we'll see what we can do."

Scruci said there's some frustration because the state will allocate funding to begin a program.

"Then that dries up and we're left holding bag," Scruci said. "So then it's up to treasurer to find money. That's a frustration."

During his report to the board, Scruci said, the schools have much to celebrate.

Students who shared their recent experiences from performing at Scotland's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, billed as the largest arts festival in the world, is one of those achievements, he said.

"It's easy to celebrate the great things going on in this district," he said. "Thanks to the people making great efforts."

Scruci said a concern he has about the district came to light during a Sept. 12 Community Coffee.

"It's still a community that doesn't understands kids are the most important thing," he said. "No matter their background, they're entitled to the same opportunities. They (need to) get over east-versus-west mentality.

"When someone says a kid can't, I'll defend our students and the families of those students. I'll work tirelessly to break down the barriers that exist.

"It's an ignorant mindset. Until adults change it, we can't move forward. I encourage you to break down barriers."

In an attempt to be transparent with the community, Scruci said, the Thursday Community Coffees will continue and evening hours will be added in October.

The coffee meetings are held from 7:30 to 9 a.m. the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at Panera Bread, 91 N. Hamilton Road, in the Clark Hall Commons.

Beginning in October, the Community Coffees also will be offered from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the first and third Mondays at Panera Bread.

"It's welcoming the community to (discuss) schools and building a partnership we feel is vital," Scruci said. "They serve free coffee to us, a plus. It's very informal but an important part of our district moving forward."

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