ESC officials: Future bleak under state funding plan

LISBON – New funding models from the state have local Education Service Centers quite concerned about their futures.

Members of the Columbiana County ESC on Monday were handed a breakdown of the latest proposal, which shows $857,147 of its $1.25 million in state foundation funding disappearing in fiscal year 2014.

Those areas slated to be cut entirely from the state funding include special education, special education for early childhood and special education transportation.

The local schools are going to be asked to pick up the areas no longer being funded through the state, according to ESC Superintendent Anna Marie Vaughn. Those schools have already been paying for the supervisory allowance, an amount per pupil and special education extended service for a total of $469,641.

However, most local schools are not receiving additional money to help pick up what the ESC will need to continue with services. Vaughn said of the 11 schools, eight are projected to have flat funding from the state and only three will see an increase.

Thus, if the local schools cannot increase their share, the handout said, the ESC would lose 77 percent of its state and local funding.

“We have a building and we have expenses,” Vaughn said of the $396,037 in state funding which is slated for the ESC in fiscal year 2014. “We’re going to have to work together and see if we survive.”

“Essentially it puts the ESC out of business,” President Richard Stoudt added.

Vaughn and the board members began listing a lot of the programs the ESC provides locally, which may not happen if the ESC can no longer operate. For instance, local schools often join together to give gifted students additional experiences the districts could not do alone without pooling resources. The ESC handles the early education for the special needs students throughout the county.

The ESC has been involved in the spelling bee for 50 years, according to Stoudt. Additional programs include Destination Imagination, Academic Challenge and the Franklin B. Walter Award, which is given to a person or team which have made an extraordinary contribution to the education of students with disabilities.

Local teachers often turn to the ESC to meet continuous education requirements set by the Ohio Department of Education. The ESC also assists schools in the writing of grants, often merging several local schools together to make the schools’ proposal more likely to receive the grant dollars.

According to Vaughn, what makes the change in policy so unexpected is that a recent study, Beyond Boundaries, pointed out sharing services between schools like the ESC is ideal for helping schools save money in the future.

“The ESCs were identified as the ideal for the shared services approach and then we turn around and don’t encourage shared services,” she said.

Vaughn said there is a hearing before the Ohio House of Representatives on March 5 on the ESC funding proposals and she said the ESCs intend to be in contact with state politicians about their concerns. The proposed fiscal budget does not need to be passed until June 30.