Board to residents: Push pols to back Kasich budget
Olentangy Local School District officials put out a call to action for residents to help ensure the district stays on track for increased funding.
At a March 14 school board meeting, board member Julie Wagner Feasel urged residents to reach out to state Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and state Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Powell) to tell them Olentangy deserves a bigger piece of the state funding pie.
A preliminary draft of a new two-year state budget unveiled in February indicated Olentangy would receive $19.1 million next year. It would be a 331-percent increase for the district -- by far the largest in the state.
But Feasel warned implementation of the new school-funding formula is contingent on the success of Gov. John Kasich's overall budget plan, which includes controversial provisions, including an expansion of the state's sales-tax base and income-tax cuts.
The budget must be approved by both chambers of the Ohio legislature this spring before funding levels are finalized.
"If one piece of the budget falls apart, it's like dominoes and the whole budget starts to get rewritten," Feasel said.
"It's imperative that we let Andrew Brenner know to back this plan, and when it goes to the Senate in May, we'll have to get on Kris Jordan to let him know to back this plan."
Olentangy officials said the district, despite its relative wealth, has been shortchanged for years.
Some other districts, including Bexley, Upper Arlington, Reynoldsburg, Big Walnut and Granville, would receive no new funding under Kasich's budget.
But unlike those districts, Olentangy has been the fastest-growing in the state for nine years. Overall, it's the seventh-largest district in the state.
Despite adding close to 10,000 students in the past decade, Olentangy's funding has remained nearly flat. Officials said per-pupil funding levels actually have dropped in that time.
The district currently receives about $330 from the state for each student enrolled. Even with the increase, Feasel said it would still only receive about $1,100 per student -- well below the state average of $3,100.
That's largely because Olentangy has the highest median income of any school district in the state.
But officials said the scales have been tipped too far away from Olentangy.
"I went to one of those schools that's been getting Olentangy's share for years," Feasel said. "I understand what it's like to go to a poor-wealth school district, but for years, your tax dollars have been going to other districts in the state and not to your schools."
She singled out the Hamilton Local School District, a low-income district south of Columbus that hasn't passed a levy since 1993.
"Olentangy has been subsidizing lower-performing districts, and we deserve to have some of that money come back to our district," she said.
Superintendent Wade Lucas seconded Feasel's call to action.
He said the increase in funding would mean tax relief for district residents who approved a school levy in 2011.
"If things stay as they are, we could potentially stretch this levy to 2018," Lucas said. "If that's not a reason to get excited, I don't know what is."