As school district administrators in Portage County familiarize themselves with the numbers behind Gov. John Kasich's new school funding plan, many are waiting for all the details to surface before gauging how their districts are affected.
With funding estimates announced by the state Wednesday, four of 11 districts in the county are projected to receive increased funding. The first draft projects about a $1.5 million increase for the Ravenna School District, about $858,000 for the Field Local School District, about $457,000 for the Aurora City School District, about $31,000 for the Streetsboro City School District and no increases for the rest of the county's districts.
But those figures are only part of the picture, and all are subject to change as the Ohio Legislature deliberates the budget before approval at the end of June. Funding items such as transportation and career tech have yet to be announced as well.
In a Jan. 31 announcement to school superintendents, Kasich noted that no district will see a drop in funding from the previous budget, and touted the plan as one that restores balance between wealthy and poor districts. The distribution of funds evaluates changes in property valuation and enrollment. The formula is based on what a 20-mill levy would generate in a district with property valuations of $250,000 per student.
"If you are poor, you're going to get more. If you are richer, you're going to get less," he said.
But after looking at initial numbers, some superintendents are scratching their heads.
Windham Superintendent Gregg Isler said he needs to see more details in the funding formula, but is "mildly concerned."
"The preliminary things that came out, they're difficult for me to grasp how someone like Olentangy (north of Columbus) can get such a large increase and others like us can get nothing." Olentangy has a per-pupil property wealth of $191,580 while Windham's is less than $87,500 according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Isler said Windham is the 20th lowest tax valuation in the state used in the governor's plan.
"Maybe there are other components out there, but the first draft is alarming," Isler said.
At Southeast, Superintendent Tom Harrison said he has hopes the plan ultimately will help local property owners.
"I want to believe this results in a funding formula that at least a little bit relieves the local taxpayers from part of the burden," he said.
Harrison was one of several superintendents from Portage who attended a preview of the plan held by Kasich last week.
"We're just taking a cautionary approach. We shall see," he said.
Harrison said some of the numbers provided can't be verified yet.
"We're not panicking over that because we've been told (by the school treasurers association) that more complete information will come out once the bill details are released next week," he said.
Those details will include other funding components such as students with disabilities and the number of economically disadvantaged students.
Crestwood Treasurer Jill Rowe said officials in her district viewed the announcement that the district would not receive funding cuts under the proposal with relief.
She said she was surprised the plan did not offer much aid to rural school districts in Portage and throughout the state.
"It looks like the city school districts benefitted from this," Rowe said. "What about the rest of us?"
Kent Superintendent Joe Giancola said even though his district would not receive additional funding under the plan, he was relieved to see Kasich did not propose cuts in state aid.
"We were encouraged that (Kasich) has made some commitments to trying to maintain his support to schools on the foundation side," Giancola said.
Giancola said Kasich has also hinted at policies that could benefit districts with large numbers of impoverished students and students in special education, but also private schools voucher programs. He said district officials were excited about the first two possibilities, but not aid for charter schools.
"If (Kasich) increases dollars for private school vouchers, that says to me there will be less dollars for public school programs," Giancola said.
While state officials claim Aurora schools will receive about $457,000 more in funding in fiscal year 2014 than in fiscal year 2013, Aurora Superintendent Russ Bennett said that is not true. Bennett said his district will receive about the same amount from the state next year as it did this year.
Aurora Treasurer Bill Volosin agreed, saying the district will receive about $3.4 million from the state next year -- the same as it got this year.
"There won't be any increase in fiscal year 2014," Volosin said. "They're showing that we're getting an increase, but we're really not. So we're looking at status quo for next year. We're anticipating no increase -- and no decrease, either, which is a good thing."
Streetsboro Treasurer Catherine Rouse said her district needs to see more details of Kasich's proposal.
"At this point in time, the governor's plan is simply a proposal that still may change," she said. "I am certainly grateful for any increase that Streetsboro may receive; however, $31,729 is minimal in comparison to the cuts we've endured."
Field Treasurer Jim Vokac said the estimated $858,000 the district is projected to gain in "not a windfall" once some of the other funding changes are factored in. About $200,000 the district was receiving through special funds have been lumped in with the new figure, he said.
"Basically, that $858,000 is not an apples-to-apples comparison because there are numbers that are skewing it," Vokac said.
On Monday, Field placed a 5-mill levy on the ballot, recognizing that if it is approved, the district is still facing about $900,000 in cuts.
Vokac said the increase in state funds may allow the district to reconsider some cuts, such as a $100,000 reduction in books and supplies, but they won't plug the hole.
Rootstown schools already projected no increase in state funding in its five-year financial forecast in October, Superintendent Andrew Hawkins said.
Hawkins said he went to Columbus last week to hear Kasich's plan. He said he was "cautiously optimistic" until seeing the numbers and realizing that while Rootstown wouldn't see any cuts, it also wouldn't receive any additional money under the governor's proposal.
"In the end, it's about what we thought," he said, predicting that "much will change between now and when this becomes law, once the legislature gets hold of it and makes changes."
Waterloo Superintendent Andrew Hill said although the district is still processing the information, it had already budgeted for no increase in funding.
"We had projected flat funding from the state for all of the years in the forecast, so if what he's presenting folds out to be the case when the whole legislative process is done at the end of June, then the immediate impact for Waterloo is what we projected," Hill said.
Hill, who was in the audience of superintendents during Kasich's announcement, said the numbers don't match the expectations of administrators he's talked to.
"There's a sense of confusion between what he said last week and what actually carries out into practice when you look at those sheets," he said. "When we heard, 'redistributing to poorer districts,' me, personally, and others would expect rural areas that have been hit hard and don't have a lot of wealth to see an increase and for whatever reason, that's not the case."
On Wednesday, Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala said it's early in the process and it is too early to say if Ravenna will receive the $1.5 million increase.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday for James A. Garfield School District Superintendent Chuck Klamer.
Record-Courier reporters Tom Gallick, Kyle McDonald, Dave O'Brien and Mike Sever, Gateway News Editor Bob Gaetjens and Record Publishing reporter Mike Lesko contributed to this story.