Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy leaders keep pushing for more state funds

Officials implore representatives to give district more of the taxes its residents pay

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Olentangy Local School District officials don't expect state legislators to approve an increase in state funding for the district in the near future, but they've vowed to keep up the fight in the fall.

Earlier this month, Olentangy school board member Dave King, Treasurer Brian Kern and Superintendent Wade Lucas, among other district representatives, testified before the Ohio Senate's education and finance committees.

King updated his fellow board members and the community at the board's meeting last Thursday, May 22.

"Our message was very clear, brief and to the point," King said.

That message: The state's current funding formula is unfair to Olentangy and other wealthy, rapidly growing school districts.

Lucas has long pushed for an increase in state funding to the district -- to at least $1,089 per student, the same amount charter schools get from the state. This school year, Olentangy received less than half that amount per student from the state, thanks to caps in Ohio's funding formula for growing districts.

Olentangy and similar districts found a champion in state Sen. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus), who proposed legislation that would mandate $1,089 in per-pupil funding from the state to all public districts. State Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) had introduced a comparable bill in the House that would set the minimum at $1,000 per pupil.

Olentangy officials said last week they do not expect any movement on the bills as the legislature works to finalize the mid-biennium budget review and recess for the summer.

Lucas said that, while the officials' testimony coincided with Senate discussions of the mid-biennium budget review, they knew the policy change was unlikely to be included alongside other budget changes.

"We kind of had an idea or a feeling what we were doing right now would not get placed in the (review)," he said. "What we did want to accomplish, though, was the fact that in both the House and in the Senate, that they knew and understand Olentangy's plight."

In his testimony before the Senate, Lucas said the district receives slightly more than $400 per student in state funding, while the average district in the state receives a little more than $3,000 per student.

He said only four cents out of every dollar the district's residents pay in income taxes return to the district in per-pupil funding.

"At the end of the day, four cents on the dollar is just not acceptable," he said. "That is not fair."

Lucas and board member Julie Wagner Feasel said support from Brenner and Hughes for a new minimum has been crucial to keeping the debate over funding fairness alive. They both said they hoped for more support from state Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) going forward.

"Sen. Jordan has to get on board, that's just plain and simple, because Sen. Hughes right now is carrying the load for Delaware County," Lucas said.

Lucas said setting the new minimum for per-pupil funding from the state would benefit all of the county's school districts.

Feasel said she wanted to thank community members who had reached out to their senators and representatives on the district's behalf.

"(The legislators) are hearing us. They sympathize with us," she said. "They see the disconnect there."

She said a state-funding increase to the district would act as tax relief to its residents. With more funding -- the district estimates it would receive about $11 million more from the state per year if the minimum is set at $1,089 -- the district would be able to stay off the ballot longer, Feasel said.

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