Olentangy Valley News

Dreams of more state funding fade at Olentangy

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Olentangy Local School District officials expressed disappointment after their district's funding hopes were dashed by Ohio lawmakers last week.

An updated two-year state budget passed last Thursday, April 18, by the Ohio House turns Gov. John Kasich's initial proposal, which would have given Olentangy a huge boost in state funding, on its head.

Kasich's proposal would have lumped an additional $15 million in fiscal year 2014 and $5 million in fiscal year 2015 on top of the $4.4 million Olentangy currently receives annually.

It represented a massive 331 percent increase for FY14 -- the biggest in the state.

But under the House budget, Olentangy would instead receive just $4.25 million in FY14 and $4.55 million in FY15. The plan also caps funding increases for all districts at 6 percent.

The proposal amounts to a net loss of roughly $7,000 over the next two years for Olentangy.

The House plan would give the district roughly $4 million in transportation dollars, however; the fate of transportation funding in Kasich's proposal was unclear.

The budget now goes to the Senate for debate.

School board member Julie Wagner Feasel lamented the overall drop in anticipated funding.

"It's incredibly frustrating," Feasel said. "It sounds to me like Olentangy is being penalized because we have high property wealth and have a high median income, but that doesn't mean that our voters are willing to pass any local levy we put on the table. Our voters are sick and tired of having to foot the bill for everything."

Interim Treasurer Todd Johnson said the proposed cap on funding would be a big blow to Olentangy, which has no cap on its ever-growing student body.

It's Ohio's fastest-growing district, a distinction it has earned for nine years straight, and the seventh-largest in the state overall with more than 17,750 students. Studies show it will likely continue to grow well past 2020 before enrollment plateaus.

Yet, per-pupil funding to the district has dropped 41 percent since 2005, even while Olentangy added roughly 8,000 students and 11 buildings in that period.

Superintendent Wade Lucas addressed the House Finance and Appropriations Committee April 12, arguing his district has been short-changed for years.

"Olentangy residents have gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supporting education," he said.

State Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) attempted to amend the budget in Olentangy's favor before its passage.

He said state dollars should "follow" students, so districts gain funding as enrollment increases and lose funding as enrollment decreases.

He added he would like to see the funding cap raised from 6 percent to 7 percent.

Brenner also proposed instituting a floor for funding at $400 per student. Olentangy currently receives about $330 from the state for each student enrolled.

Even under Kasich's original budget proposal, per-pupil funding for the district would have ticked up only to about $1,100 per student -- well below the state average of $3,100.

"Being a taxpayer in the Olentangy school district, I'm in complete agreement with fellow taxpayers that we're paying too much for property taxes, and I'm working to change that," Brenner said.

Olentangy residents do 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.

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