BEAVER TOWNSHIP- South Range Local Schools administration, seeking input from the community regarding options to combat a projected operating deficit, hosted a public forum Wednesday night to discuss school funding and the fiscal state of the district.
Approximately 75 residents attended the meeting, and many of them spoke out against open enrollment during the public speaking portion.
According to schools Superintendent Dennis Dunham and Treasurer Jim Phillips, the administration, facing an operating deficit of approximately $885,000 by July 2014, is looking at three possible solutions, none of which will work alone: a new money levy, selective open enrollment and a cut in services. Both Dunham and Phillips, as well as the four school board members in attendance, assured residents that no decisions have been made yet. They said a written plan needs to be developed to send to the Ohio Department of Education that demonstrates the elimination of the deficit and that community members should feel free to share their opinions and ideas with members of the administration.
"We're a small circle of friends trying to work together for the benefit of the kids," Dunham said. "[The administration] can't make these decisions on our own. We need the input from the community."
Joel Roscoe, superintendent of Hillsdale Local Schools in Wayne County and school finance consultant for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, explained school funding prior to the public speaking portion of the event, showing that state funding decreases as property values increase and thus the reason schools ask for new money levies. He also noted that when property values increase, the millage rate on levies decreases, so that levies bring in the same money as in prior years as state aid is decreasing, equaling a loss in revenue.
That discrepancy, in addition to a loss in state funding that was not replaced after the end of federal stimulus funds and the elimination of revenue on personal tangible property taxes, has left South Range, like many school districts in the state, at a loss, Phillips said.
"We have two basic sources of funding- three if you count the personal tangible property tax that we no longer receive- and one (property tax) is staying the same and one (state funding) is going down," he said. "The district is in dire straits. We need to raise revenue and reduce expenditures."
Although the administration mentioned a new money levy and cutting services and programs, those residents in attendance seemed more concerned with the district possibly opening its doors to outsiders for the first time.
Phillips said that the district lost out on over $158,000 ($5,800 per student) of state funding last year due to outgoing students. If the district takes in just 100 students, it can generate $580,000 in state funding, he said, noting that some neighboring districts take in upward of 400 students each year.
But parents in the audience questioned how open enrollment would affect the quality of the district, and some even stated that they moved their families to the district specifically because it didn't offer open enrollment. They also expressed concern that once open enrollment is established, the administration will begin to look at the children as money and not students, admitting problem children from other districts simply as a source of state funding.
Dunham explained that student applications can be denied based on class capacity, prior disciplinary actions against the student and special needs requirements. He also explained that the open enrollment program must be renewed before each school year and if at anytime the board would feel the district no longer needs the extra revenue, the program can be terminated.
The board's written proposal to eliminate the projected deficit must be completed by the end of December. Dunham said he encourages community members to share their ideas with any members of the administration and school board.
Kevin Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org