The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 2, 2013

Ashtabula County's school leaders encouraged by Kasich’s funding plan

Star Beacon

— “Cautiously optimistic” was the common response when Ashtabula County’s school administrators were asked their opinion of the school-funding plan unveiled Thursday by Gov. John Kasich.

Many local superintendents traveled to Columbus to hear the announcement first-hand. Those reached for comment Friday were encouraged by what they learned, while others said they are reserving judgment until hard numbers are computed.

Mary Zappitelli, Geneva Area City Schools superintendent, said she is anxious to see how the proposal affects her district.

Simulations that break the governor’s into dollars-and-cents numbers for each district could arrive by the end of next week, Zappitelli said. “I want to see it on paper before I comment,” she said.

Other superintendents were mindful the Kasich plan faces plenty of fine-tuning as it travels through the Ohio House and Senate.

“There’s a whole vetting process to take place,” said John Rubesich, Ashtabula County Educational Service Center superintendent. “What was proposed (Thursday) could be a different animal” once lawmakers have their say, he said.

Kasich’s plan would earmark $1.2 billion in new funds over the biennium for primary and secondary education, provide assistance to districts based partly on residents’ income, provide extra  funds to educate chil-

dren with disabilities and also expand the state’s voucher program, making private schools more accessible to families.

State Sen. Capri Cafaro said Friday the proposal was “a mixed bag.”

"I have some significant reservations regarding the expansion of Ed choice vouchers and other voucher programs,” Cafaro said in a statement. “I worry this could drain already limited resources for public school districts. I was happy to see there will be a commitment to gifted education. I also do believe the combination of income and property values could possibly assist in leveling the playing field for school districts receiving state aid from the foundation formula. This could positively impact many school districts.

“Of course, until we see legislative language, we do not know the exact ramifications of any of these proposals,” Cafaro said. “As we move forward with the budget process, there are still extensive discussions that need to be had regarding Ohio's education system."

State Rep. John Patterson, a retired Jefferson teacher who campaigned extensively last year on education issues, said Friday he was “anxious to look at the details.”

“There are some elements I support, some I have questions about and some I have concerns about,” he said.

Patterson was pleased the proposal contained no funding decreases and is intrigued with provisions that help schools with a number of non-English-speaking students and also reward creative thinking.

At first glance, the plan appears not to address deep cuts already made to state education over the past two years, Patterson said.

“”We’re still operating through that time period where almost $2 billion was cut,” he said. “We’re still behind the 8-ball there.

Patterson also has questions about the voucher program, especially since many of the state’s underperforming schools are charter schools. “These are things we need to look at,” he said.

Local superintendents, meanwhile, were generally hopeful based on Thursday’s remarks — especially since some were bracing for more reductions.

“At least we won’t be cut again,” said Douglas Hladek, of the Jefferson Area Local Schools district. “No district will receive fewer dollars.”

Other aspects of the proposal have appeal, Hladek said.

“It was encouraging to hear funding for kindergarten will be at the full amount and just half of it,” he said. “Instead of mandating (all-day kindergarten) they are funding it.”

Hladek said he also understood there would be incentives for districts that devise new, innovative concepts. “I am encouraged by the initial statement,” he said.

Kent Houston, Conneaut Area City Schools superintendent, agreed.

“On the surface it sounds exciting,” he said. “It is more innovative and creative than (proposals) we’ve seen before.”

The invitation to Columbus, meanwhile, “was a neat learning experience,” he said.

Rubesich said Kasich did an “excellent” job of delivering the budget, and was particularly pleased to hear the governor say politics had no place in the proposal.

“That was a sound, strong remark for him to make,” he said. “It sounds like he’s trying to do what’s right for kids in the state of Ohio.”