By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
A bill aimed at assisting financially strapped school districts in Ohio willing to merge with another district could do good in the Ashtabula County area, said State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, sponsor of the legislation introduced last week.
Without naming names, Patterson, who represents the 99th District, said his House Bill 216 could assist at least one district in the region. “There is a district that could take advantage of this,” he said late last week.
He could have been referring to Ledgemont Local Schools, which serves Thompson and Montville townships in Geauga County. The district, which owes the state of Ohio more than $2.5 million, has been in fiscal emergency status since 2010. A 14.7-mill levy was soundly defeated by voters, 891-596, in the May special election. Ledgemont officials broached the subject of consolidation soon after the election.
Patterson’s bill would forgive debt accumulated by a district if it agrees to merge with an adjoining district. There are conditions: The district must already owe at least 33 percent of its operating budget for the current fiscal year, up to $10 million, to the Solvency Assistance Fund; and have been in a state of fiscal emergency for two fiscal years. The district willing to accept the troubled district must provide the state with a five-year solvency plan to show the merger won’t create a hardship.
“We don’t want to see another school district fail by taking on these schools,” Patterson said last week.
About a dozen districts across Ohio appear to be eligible for the proposed debt-forgiveness program, Patterson said. “Under the bill, districts that qualify are in deep financial trouble, but the bridge they would have to cross is consolidation,” he said.
In the coming weeks, the bill will go to a House education committee that will give the measure “a thorough vetting” and “work out potential bugs,” said Patterson.
The bill offers hope to struggling districts, Patterson said. “We’re trying to provide a feasible plan that gives (eligible districts) more options,” he said.