Fund cuts at ESC tough for districts

LISBON – Both the county Educational Service Center and local school districts will have to wait and see how funding issues may work out throughout this school year.

ESC Superintendent Anna Marie Vaughn said cuts of $560,000 in state funding for the preschool program to the ESC may force local districts to make some tough decisions in the future.

Instead of the money going directly from the state to the ESC for the 10 preschool classrooms the ESC is operating in the county, the money is now supposed to go through the local schools.

However, in the case of Lisbon schools, the district has been told at this point it is projected to receive no additional funding. At a meeting earlier in September, Lisbon’s school board voted to approve its contracts with the ESC, but noted it will now cost them nearly a half million dollars for the services.

Other local schools are told they will be receiving some additional funding. The costs for ESC services will increase for all the local schools.

Vaughn said the ESC, in order to operate the preschool programs, must increase the cost to the districts. The anticipated increase will be just under 50 percent.

Another cut to ESC funding is in gifted education, where the ESC is losing about $140,000 in state money. Currently, the ESC has five gifted teachers, three of whom are shared by more than one school. By sharing services, Vaughn said the ESC attempts to help districts serve a small number of students without the expense of a full-time staff member.

Finally, cuts to state funding for the ESC is forcing cuts in the area of curriculum and instruction. Generally, the ESC puts $245,000 into the program, while local districts combine for another $190,000.

However, recent cuts have forced the ESC to cut back the number of instructional consultants on its staff. These employees assist the local districts and teachers with professional development. Local districts need training for requirements such as new reading assessments for the third-grade guarantee and changes in state report card requirements.

“We’ve seen an increase in the need for services,” Vaughn said of recent trends. “Our goal is to support our districts and see what needs are out there, not duplicate (what they can do).”

Vaughn said the idea behind pulling money from the ESC to local districts appears to be to give schools more of a choice as to where to spend their money. However, schools with less than 16,000 students, which are all the districts in Columbiana County, are now required to contract with an ESC.

“In the cases of shared teachers or shared classrooms it is not likely they will operate on their own, unless their numbers (of students) are high,” Vaughn said.

At this point, all the local school districts which have contracted with the ESC last year have indicated their intention to continue. But from a budgeting perspective, Vaughn said with so many funding unknowns everyone is in a “wait and see” situation this year.