Olentangy Valley News

District on increased state funds: It's about time

Officials say potential big hike in fiscal support from the state comes after a decade of losing money

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Olentangy Local School District officials defended their district's massive gains under a new two-year state budget rolled out this month.

Preliminary numbers unveiled last week specifying individual funding levels show Olentangy will receive $19.1 million next year. It's a 331 percent increase for the district -- by far the largest in the state.

At a Feb. 13 board meeting, Olentangy officials said the state is playing catch-up after shortchanging the district for years.

Olentangy has been the fastest-growing district in the state for nine years. Overall, it's the seventh-largest district in the state.

"It would appear to me they're finally catching us up to where we should be and finally recognizing the growth and performance of this district and backing that up with more equitable funding," said board President Kevin O'Brien. "I'm surprised by the magnitude, but encouraged nonetheless."

Just about $7 million of Olentangy's $150 million budget currently is funded by the state.

Interim Treasurer Todd Johnson said it's possible $3.3 million in eliminated transportation funds still could be restored, which would boost expected funding for Olentangy to about $22 million for fiscal year 2014.

Kasich's new budget bumps allocations to the district by increasing per-pupil funding. Currently, Olentangy has nearly 18,000 students enrolled. In the past decade, it routinely added nearly 1,000 students annually; this year, about 700 new students enrolled.

For that reason, officials said they were cautiously optimistic the district would benefit from Kasich's new plan.

"We've been flat-funded for the last decade while adding close to 10,000 students," Johnson said, "so if you look at state funding on a per-pupil basis, we've actually been losing money each year for the last eight to 10 years."

Since fiscal year 2005, per-pupil funding to the district has dropped 41 percent.

Board member Julie Wagner Feasel said other districts should consider that before calling Olentangy an outlier in Kasich's funding plan.

"They don't realize we've been the outlier on the other end for years -- the low end," she said.

Some other districts, including Bexley, Upper Arlington, Reynoldsburg, Big Walnut and Granville, will receive no new funding.

Board members pointed out Olentangy will receive no additional funding under a piece of the funding formula based on the income of residents, since the district has the highest median income of any in the state.

The district will receive some targeted funds for certain student groups, including 3.2 million for students with disabilities and $50 for each student identified as "gifted."

Officials stressed the numbers are preliminary.

Feasel said the success of the school-funding formula is contingent on the success of Kasich's overall budget plan, which includes an expansion of the state's sales tax base and income tax cuts.

"If any of those pieces unravels, it's like dominoes falling down, so everything has to fall exactly into place in order for this to happen," she said.

Even then, Johnson told board members, it's not a permanent solution to Olentangy's budget concerns.

After voters approved a 7.9-mill levy in May 2011, board members pledged to stretch that funding for at least four years before returning to the ballot.

Johnson said the projected $14 million gain in funding for fiscal year 2014 is roughly equivalent to an extra 5-mill levy.

"Everyone here is well aware of the steps taken to make (the 7.9-mill levy) last four years based on the current forecast, so I want to make everyone aware that even though this is a huge increase based on our original funding, it's not to say we're never going back on the ballot ever again," Johnson said.

O'Brien added: "It does buy us some time, though."

If the funding formula remains consistent, it could pad Olentangy's budget more in the future. The district expects to continue to gain students until a projected plateau of around 21,000 students in 2020.

Olentangy will continue to make funding gains as long as its student population grows faster than home values, O'Brien said.

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