State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora and State Sen. Leigh Herington of Kent, along with Dan Trevas, Statehouse correspondent for the Record-Courier, discussed the state's school funding issue at a forum at Davey Middle School in Kent.
The program, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kent and the Record-Courier, drew more than 50 Portage-area residents and educators concerned about the local impact of the funding situation and what its outcome may be.
The Ohio Legislature _ assigned with the task of developing an adequate solution by March 24, 1998 following the Ohio Supreme Court decision that the former funding system was unconstitutional _ must look beyond party lines, the panelists said.
"This is a very significant issue as it affects one of the most important aspects of society _ our children, and part of me feels the public should have a direct say in some of the things we are doing," Womer Benjamin said. "This (also) has to be a bi-partisan effort."
Although Herington and Womer Benjamin said they believe the government needs to look elsewhere in its budget to provide more money for education, some form of tax increase, whether it be sales, income or property, may occur, they said.
"Finding money in an already tight budget will be difficult," Womer Benjamin said. "I don't want to cut higher education or human services in order to come up with dollars for school funding. But if we can't come up with enough money in the state budget, there may have to be new taxes."
Herington echoed the importance of protecting higher education while trying to solve this dilemma.
He also said asking citizens to support a tax increase without offering a strong solution will not be effective.
"The public is not going to accept a 1 percent sales tax increase without knowing what they are going to get for the value of their dollar," Herington said. "In the same way, people won't pass a school levy unless they know you will spend those dollars wisely."
All three panelists urged residents to write letters to legislators with their suggestions and to get involved in groups like the League of Women Voters.
"If the education of the mother is the single most important aspect of a child's education, then we have to let those young mothers know we want them to succeed," Trevas said. "To reform, it is going to take constitutional amendments, it might take taxes and it might take a long (time) to answer all of this ... but I have a feeling the legislators are committed to making this work.
Although the March deadline is only six months away, and they agree there are many questions still unanswered, Herington and Womer Benjamin said they are confident the situation will be solved by then.
"If we are all part of the solution, I think we can come up with an
alternative that will probably be on the ballot in May," Herington