Judge awards $42 million to three school districts shorted in state funding

Catherine Candisky
ccandisky@dispatch.com
Columbus City school buses parked at the Moler Transporation Services Center.

A Franklin County judge has awarded more than $42 million to three Ohio school districts after ruling they had been short-changed in state education funding.

Common Pleas Judge Gina R. Russo found the Ohio Department of Education failed to follow state law for calculating aid and instead used its own formula, resulting in reductions in funding to the Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo school districts from 2005 through 2007.

“The General Assembly decided the proper way to calculate formula ADM (average daily membership) and pay for add-in students” in state law…

”While ODE (Ohio Department of Education) may believe substitutions of CSADM (community school average daily membership) results in better, more accurate numbers, the fact remains, pursuant to (state law), formula ADM is not to be recalculated or reduced using data provided by community schools,” Russo wrote in her Sept. 10 decision.

Ohio’s complex school funding system is based on average daily membership, which is the number of students attending a district school in the first full week of October and the number of students entitled to attend, but who have opted to go to a privately operated charter or community school. The number can be increased later in the school year to account for students who enroll in charter schools after the October count and were not previously counted.

To fund community schools, the district is first credited for the student and then receives a deduction which is paid to the student’s school.

Unlike districts, community schools report their attendance monthly to the Department of Education. The two counts don’t usually match.

In a 54-page ruling, Russo noted that the Department of Education erred by using the enrollment figure provided by the community school instead of the district’s October number. As a result, each of the three districts was billed for students they never got credit for having and received less state aid than they were entitled.

“Our students who lost educational opportunities because of the Ohio Department of Education’s failure to follow the funding formula are likely long gone from our district,” Elizabeth Lolli, superintendent of Dayton Schools, which was awarded the largest amount, $23.6 million, said in a statement.

“But the funding that flows from the court’s decision will provide an opportunity for students filling their seats today.”

The state was ordered to pay $13.7 million to Cleveland schools and $4.9 to Toledo schools.

Columbus schools did not experience such losses and were not involved in the case.

Previously, Cincinnati schools was awarded $6 million in a separate lawsuit based on similar claims. Following that case, Ohio lawmakers included a provision in a state budget bill to prevent further claims against the Department of Education.

Mandy Minick, spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the agency had no comment about the ruling.

Delay in paying the schools could be costly for the state.

“Post-judgment interest awarded by the court on the entire award is acruing from the date of the decision at a rate of up to $175,000 a month,” said Jim Hughes, an attorney with the Columbus-based Bricker & Eckler, which represented the schools.

ccandisky@dispatch.com

@ccandisky