If you had the opportunity to read the latest edition of our news magazine, The Experience, last week, you know that our community has important decisions to make in the coming months as we develop a master facility plan for the high school. As it stands now, significant district operating funds are being diverted to the maintenance and repair of this aging facility -- dollars that I’d prefer to use for teaching and learning as the district continues to face reductions in funding and support from the state government.
Although not a surprise to our district treasurer/CFO Tom Golinar and me, we did, yet again, see another cut in state funding in the latest budget out of Columbus this summer. In fact, our state allocation was reduced by 13 percent or roughly $750,000 - a number that is locked in for at least the next two fiscal years. Thankfully, we built these cuts into our budget years ago, but that still doesn’t make it right as this leaves our revenue stream at 75% local funding and 25% state funding and obviously even more burden on our local residents and business owners.
It’s important to understand the basic philosophy of Ohio state funding when it comes to school districts. The state looks at the “perceived” wealth of the school district community, and where the median income is higher and property values are greater, the state support is lower. So, instead of the $6,000 per student we should get from state funding (as many other school districts and charter schools do), we get approximately $1,800. In total, that’s about $3.1 million instead of $10 million -- pretty significant when you consider we only have a $23 million operating budget!
And although often misunderstood, increases in property values every few years by the county auditor don’t get the school district much additional funding either thanks to House Bill 920. Essentially what this law says is that a school district can’t collect more money than the original amount approved by voters -- therefore, really the only way we significantly benefit financially from the growing property values in our community is by new construction (assuming there are no tax abatements) and new tax levies.
So, yes, frustrating and confusing, but this is the world we live in when it comes to funding our school district. Our commitment to fiscal management remains strong and we continue to seek efficiencies and streamline operations. In fact, in the last four fiscal years, we have kept budget growth to less than 2 percent; we spend nearly 70% of the budget on classroom instruction; and we have one of the lowest per pupil spending dollar amounts in comparison to other high performing districts.
But, without major changes in the state funding formula or significantly reducing the educational experiences our community has come to expect, we will eventually have to turn our residents again for additional support. It’s just the funding cycle our district, and many like us throughout the state, have been dealt.
Know that each and every decision made by myself and the Board of Education is done with our students and community in mind. We will continue to contest these state budget decreases on behalf of our local taxpayers through our lobbying and advocacy affiliations.
I hope this blog provides some transparency into the financial world of Mariemont City Schools. I encourage you all to listen to our upcoming podcast where district treasurer and CFO Tom Golinar and I will dive even deeper into this subject. And as always, you can get more information on our district finances or the high school facility master plan by visiting www.mariemontschools.org.
Superintendent, Mariemont City Schools