UNION — During a special meeting Monday of the Northmont Board of Education at Union Elementary, members of the Northmont School Board voted unanimously to bill the state of Ohio for funding losses the district has experienced from unfunded mandates, specifically the funds Northmont must pay to support charter schools.
In 2015 Northmont redirected $430,955 in local tax dollars to support 140 local students that attend charter schools. Northmont anticipates losing $2,154,776 in the next five years to charter school funding. State funding cuts have also impacted the district.
In the last five years Northmont has made cuts totaling $5.5 million in order to stretch its available operating funds as far as possible, according to board officials. Despite those cuts Northmont was recognized by the Ohio Department of Education for directing the highest percentage of its budget to educate students in the classroom.
“We are moving away from an industrialized model of educating students and towards a more personalized education plan for each student,” said Linda Blum, board president. “However, innovation is slowed when so much of our resources are swallowed up by mandates, many of which, I might add, have been waived for public charter schools. The things that make Northmont strong and special do not come from Columbus or Washington. Our Link Crew, our teacher authored social studies textbook for the iPad, our STEM programs are but a few examples. Our district has worked hard to operate in a lean and efficient manner. We prioritize the classroom and strategically invest where we believe it will have the largest payoff.”
Blum then noted the cuts the district has made over the last five years and pointed out other cuts the district is considering.
“We are in the process of looking to reduce expenditures by $500,000 this year and next based on monies we were anticipating from the state budget that did not materialize at the last minute,” Blum stated. “These are dollars we may not have had to cut if the state did not continue to take our local dollars to pay its charter schools each year. While the dollars going to charter schools have risen very quickly and continue to rise, our opportunities for our students are significantly reduced.”
She pointed out that the charter schools concept was a pilot program founded on a desire to make things better for some of Ohio’s poorest children and designed to give parents an option for students attending poor performing schools because of where they lived. She said a pilot program is supposed to be monitored and evaluated for success or failure and adjustments made to improve the program, or scrap it if it is a failure. Blum also noted that after 15 years and billions of dollars later, charter schools have not lived up to the promise of a better and innovative education at a lower cost.
“Perhaps even more disturbing; in those 15 years policy makers for the most part appear to be entrenched in the system and continue to defend what appears to me to be a failed experiment,” Blum said. “Don’t misunderstand; I believe in careful, well thought out risk taking and I know innovation comes with missteps along the way, but 15 years is too long to invest in a system that has failed to deliver, has been plagued with such poor oversight and lack of transparency resulting in Ohio’s charter school system being an embarrassment nationally.”
The board then voted unanimously to pass a resolution to direct the school district’s treasurer to invoice the state of Ohio for all the funds extracted from the Northmont City School District for charter school students. The resolution also urges the Ohio General Assembly to limit the per pupil charter school deduction to the annual per pupil amount the school district has received from the state with any additional dollars needed to meet the established per pupil funding for charter school students to be provided through a separate state budget line item specifically for charter schools.
The Ohio General Assembly determined that roughly $5,800 in fiscal 2015 was the amount of money that each student in the state should receive for educational purposes. The school funding formula established by the state determined Northmont would only receive $3,033 per student from the state to educate each student attending a charter school leaving Northmont to pick up the rest of the tab.
“All of those charter schools that those students are attending have been rated a C or below in their performance index,” Blum noted. “Our tax dollars have been paying for charter schools for 15 years that have been giving us dismal results as a whole. There are 16 charter schools in Montgomery County. Imagine what our community as a whole would be like if one of those 16 schools was a high performing school district. It’s not OK with me. I will continue to work with our legislators who care about this issue, but for right now I have a responsibility to the community to ask the state to give us that money back. Our kids deserve it.”
Superintendent Dr. Sarah Zatik said she couldn’t agree more with what Blum had said.
“You have to understand the whole picture in order to understand how frustrating it is,” Zatik said. “As Mrs. Blum has mentioned we have cut $5.5 million from our budget and that was difficult. We don’t have a lot of fluff in the district. We are really lean and we lost money in the last two property reappraisals, about $1.4 million.”
She credited State Representatives Mike Henne and Jeff Rezabek as well as Senator Lehner for their work as both the senate and house version of the budget bill gave Northmont some funding, but unfortunately two days before the budget was passed Northmont ended up with no funding.
“We normally received close to 2 percent every year, a little bit of growth that helps us survive and that cut was very, very hard to take,” Zatik said. “That amounts in our biennial budget to about $3.5 million.”
Northmont planned to be proactive and cut $500,000 from its budget this year, but when the state cut all funding increases it came as a huge surprise. She also pointed out that when mandates are added to the equation, it places even more of a financial strain on the district.
Zatik pointed out that there is a difference between residents of a school district being capable of supporting a proposed levy and their desire to support it.
“If this levy passes we are going to need to cut a million dollars from our budget,” Zatik said. “If it doesn’t pass, we are going to probably look at 30 to 40 positions that we will have to cut when we already cut a tremendous amount of positions back in 2010-2011. That is a concern because when those report card scores come out you want your reputation to be high test scores, yet we don’t have the intervention we need, we have high class sizes, so it’s just frustration from a lot of different angles.”
Representatives from Clayton, Englewood and Union city councils attended the meeting as well as representatives of Citizens for Northmont Schools and the Northmont Community Advocacy Committee, all of which Zatik thanked for attending to show support of the district.
State Senator Peggy Lehner, who is serving her third term as the Chairwoman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, addressed the board at the meeting.
“I want to commend the fine job that you all do,” Lehner said. “I know you are doing a wonderful job in this district with your kids and some of these economic issues are extremely challenging. I get it.”
Lehner pointed out that the state legislature recently passed legislation to address many of the transparency and accountability issues that are very real concerning charter schools.
“We do have a charter school sector that is the laughing stock of the nation,” Lehner said. “We are tired of that and have taken a number of steps and I think we can go further, without question. I think in time that will happen.”
Reach Ron Nunnari at 684-9124, via email Rnunnari@civitasmedia.com or on Twitter @Englewood_Ind