The prolonged budget crunch at the Ohio Statehouse is just one way a struggling economy finds its way into local school districts.

The prolonged budget crunch at the Ohio Statehouse is just one way a struggling economy finds its way into local school districts.

Marysville Exempted Village School District Superintendent Larry Zimmerman said the budget ultimately approved by the state legislature appears to hold at least a couple pieces of good news for schools.

The first is that had the solution to a budget shortfall been to reduce state assistance to local school districts, Marysville stood to lose approximately $4 million in state dollars over the next 18 months.

"That would have been devastating," Zimmerman told ThisWeek.

While Zimmerman said that all the details of the budget plan have yet to become clear, it does not include cuts in state aid to schools.
"Here in Ohio, investing in education is the cornerstone of our plan to rebuild Ohio's economy from the ground up," Gov. Ted Strickland said in a statement. "This compromise will avoid thousands of teacher layoffs, school building closures and the elimination of athletic programs in our schools."

Zimmerman added that the bill maintains the extension to the phase-out of the reimbursement for money lost to districts with the elimination of the Personal Tangible Property Tax.

"They've given communities a two-year reprieve," Zimmerman said.

The budget bill does call for all-day kindergarten to be offered beginning in the 2010-11 school year. The bill does allow school districts to request a waiver as far out as the 2012-2013 year if it can show financial hardship.

Zimmerman said the district's school board will examine the issue early in 2010.

"It will cost about $1.3-million for us," Zimmerman explained. "I have no idea whether the State will send some more money."

If not, he said, cuts will have to be made to current programs, most likely in non-state-mandated high school courses.

Zimmerman pointed to internal budget controls and a couple unexpected revenue streams allowing the district to seek a renewal (no new taxes maintains tax rollback) rather than a replacement (collected at original millage) of a 6.56-mill, five-year operating levy in 2009, an issue approved by voters in November.

"It could have been difficult to pass a new-money tax" given the economy, Zimmerman said. "I think folks appreciate what we do, and like the product but at what cost?"

Zimmerman said the economy is part of the reasoning for pushing out seeking another new operating levy to 2011. An earlier five-year financial forecast had called for an issue in 2010.

Zimmerman added that one of the most challenging ways a down economy hits school districts, Marysville included, is more personal - the increased number of students living in poverty.

He said the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches in Marysville is growing. He also said families are affected in their ability to purchase school supplies, adding that Marysville schools and families have always found ways to help with supplies as well as coats and gloves.

"We've always done it, we're just doing it more," he said. "Marysville has always been very generous."