Olentangy Valley News

Officials tout per-pupil spending as measure of thrift

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Olentangy's school board president touted the district's per-pupil spending levels as a marker of fiscal prudence this month.

In March the Ohio Department of Education released the annual CUPP Report, a report detailing financial and demographic factors for all Ohio school districts.

The report indicates that Olentangy spends less for each student enrolled than the state average. It also spends less than districts deemed "similar" to Olentangy based on size and demographics.

At a meeting March 14, Board President Kevin O'Brien said the numbers show Olentangy has been a good steward of taxpayer dollars in a district where the bulk of school funding responsibilities fall on the backs of residents.

Cost-per-pupil is calculated by dividing total operating costs by the number of students currently enrolled.

According to the ODE, Olentangy spent about $9,598 to educate each student in 2011-12. During that year, the district educated 16,761 students with an operating budget of roughly $160 million.

By comparison, per-pupil spending across the state averaged $10,600. Districts similar to Olentangy Local Schools across Ohio spent an average of $10,754 per student.

And Olentangy spends less even while it receives less from the state. State funding comprises about 16 percent of Olentangy's budget. The state average is 43 percent, and 19 percent for similar districts.

That means Olentangy taxpayers are left to pick up the slack, O'Brien said.

"Considering that the vast majority of funding for Olentangy comes from the local tax base, we've done a good job of being responsible for that burden," he said.

"You could make the argument that local control really drives some better spending habits," he added.

Olentangy residents get less help, but they also have more to spend. The median income for the district is $73,125, the highest in the state.

In only eight of the remaining 608 Ohio districts do residents have a median income of more than $60,000. New Albany comes closest, with a median income of $69,808.

Regardless, Olentangy officials are using the state funding disparity to argue their district deserves a bigger piece of the pie. They say the scales have been tipped too far against Olentangy for too long.

Despite adding close to 10,000 students in the past decade, Olentangy's funding from the state has remained nearly flat. Officials said state per-pupil funding levels actually have dropped in that time.

So board members are urging state representatives to approve a new budget plan put forward by Gov. John Kasich in February.

A preliminary draft of the new two-year state budget indicated Olentangy would receive $19.1 million next year. If approved, it would be a 331-percent increase for the district -- by far the largest in the state.

But board members say it's a fair deal. The district currently receives about $330 from the state for each student enrolled. Even with the increase it would still only receive about $1,100 per student -- well below the state average of $3,100.

"Districts like Olentangy aren't necessarily getting their fair share of state funding. We've had to fund our growth on the backs of local taxpayers, and the governor's proposal is a good step forward in getting us some much-needed help from the state," O'Brien said.

Officials are currently readying a first draft of Olentangy five-year financial forecast, to be reviewed in May.

It won't incorporate any increase in projected state funding just yet, however.

"If we put it in the forecast and anything changes, we could be in a world of hurt," board member Julie Wagner Feasel said.

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