Local district stays close to state funding debate

Avon/Avon Lake

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon Local Schools (and other districts, like Avon Lake) sends a disproportionate amount of funding per student to charter schools compared with what it receives from the state.

To be exact, annually, Avon receives just over $1,000 per student in funding from the state, yet it pays about $5,700 to privately owned, publicly funded charter schools for each Avon student that opts to study at one.

Avon Lake’s funding is similar.

Mike Laub, Avon’s superintendent, recited these and other figures from memory, coming to the defense of public schools and citing the need for improved funding.

Joined at Elyria’s Educational Services Center April 27 by a large group of charter school officials, students and parents, as well as a few public school officials and concerned Lorain County residents, Laub listened as former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich addressed school funding issues in Ohio, only chiming in when charter supporters began presenting what seemed to be incorrect funding information.

Kucinich has been touring the state giving similar speeches.

Addressing privatization and corporate interests, Kucinich characterized funding privately owned organizations with public dollars as “unconstitutional.”

He referenced a decades-old Ohio Supreme Court case (DeRolph v. State) that declared Ohio’s school funding system as unconstitutional, stating that these issues were never corrected despite this finding.
Kucinich then asked if anyone present could imagine ignoring a court finding — a rhetorical question nobody attempted to answer.

He then pointed to several other policies that he believes have hurt Ohio schools, including corporate tax abatements, “which is a way of taking future revenues away from public schools,” he said, also mentioning a 1972 state decision to give commercial and industrial properties the same tax rate as residential properties. This allows wealthy landowners to present information to local boards of revision to receive dramatically reduced tax obligations, which affects school funding.

Locally, Avon Lake City Schools has battled with NRG Energy Inc. over its tax obligations.

Currently, the district is awaiting an Ohio Supreme Court date to decide the organization’s appeal of it’s 2013 valuation, as well as an Ohio Board of Tax Appeals hearing in September, which will address a similar appeal on the energy company’s 2015 taxes.

Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Bob Scott estimates the district is looking at about $300,000 per year if the 2013 appeal goes through.

Of privatization in general, Kucinich said, “It inevitably causes people to pay a second time for something they already paid for once.”

He continued, “Privatization of public assets is a major issue in America. In the case of education, the government pays private management companies in the charter industry a significant amount of the educational funds that many people think are intended solely for public schools.”

“Educational funding set up by legislature in 1999 has ended up carving out about $10 billion for charter schools that people in local neighborhood areas thought, instead, was going to their neighborhood public schools.”

“For Avon, that adds up to over $500,000 per year out of our ($36 million) budget,” Laub later added.
Scott says Avon Lake is at about $400,000 per year in funds sent to charter schools.

Districts are forced to make up for these losses by asking for levies.

“About 48 percent of the money that goes to charter schools comes from local property tax
revenues,” said Kucinich.

Frustrated parents who don’t see their local schools as a viable option asked why they should pay taxes for something they can’t rely upon. They also asked Kucinich to find out why students are leaving public schools and heading to charter schools instead.

Kucinich, Laub and Matt Jablonski, an Elyria High School teacher, public school activist and parent, all agreed that the dialogue between public schools and charters could improve.

“At the end of the day, school funding needs to be addressed,” Laub said, simply.

Jablonski agreed, stating that he hopes this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

“When I consider school funding from my perspective as a parent, teacher and taxpayer, I’m unsettled,” he said.

“(This) meeting is about the issue of funding in the state of Ohio: a funding system that was declared unconstitutional long ago and remains so; a system that continues to promote inequality in all schools, regardless of the fact that they are public or charter.”

While finding a statewide funding solution for districts that each face unique challenges may seem daunting to some, Laub says there are two options.

“Would it be more equitable to provide districts like Avon the same amount of money per student that goes to charter schools? For Avon, that would be approximately $6,000 per student, not the $1,000 we receive. Or would it be more appropriate for Avon to only send the amount of money we get from the state to charter schools when students choose to enroll in charters? That means we would send just over $1,000 per student, not the $6,000 (or more) we send now,” Laub explained.

“Why should we send more money to a charter school than we receive from the state to educate our students?”

Contact Nicole Hennessy at nicohenness@gmail.com

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