AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – As more and more school districts in Ohio struggle trying to make ends meet, members of the state Board of Education could vote next month on a plan that could give local administrators more flexibility with some of their programs.
Right now, Ohio requires its school districts to provide “special” programs, such as art, music, physical education and library services at the elementary level. But that soon could be changing.
Members of the Ohio Board of Education are now said to be thinking of easing those staffing requirements, which is something supporters claim will offer local superintendents and school boards more control of where their tax dollars are being spent, especially if they are looking for ways to reduce costs.
Austintown Local Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca said while he appreciates the chance to have more of a say in local school affairs, he also thinks the changes indicate local districts may not be able to count on funding from Washington or Columbus.
“As the federal and state government continues to cut our budget and push money back to the local taxpayers, this is a decision I think they are giving local boards and local superintendents a discretion, where if your money is very tight, you have to make a decision of what are you going to cut?,” he said.
Colaluca, along with a number of other superintendents, are in Columbus this week for meetings. He stressed the potential changes will not eliminate programs like art and music themselves, but could give administrators the freedom to decide which programs they can keep and which they could cut.
The changes being discussed would impact staffing guidelines, which is something opponents say would allow local school districts to cut back, or even eliminate, programs like art, music and physical education classes.
One area lawmaker who is about to join the state Board of Education said the state is simply trying to push responsibility for funding education back to local communities and some won’t be able to afford it.
“That is not an equal education. That is a standard that flies in the face of what we believe is very important in the Ohio Constitution, a fair and equitable education. You are not getting it when you start taking one program, eliminating another,” State Rep. Bob Hagan said.
Hagan sent a letter to the state Board, urging the other members to drop the idea. The text of his letter is below:
Dear President Terhar,
It has come to my attention that the school board plans on voting to eliminate state standards that require school districts to maintain staffing ratios for elementary art education, music education, physical education, school counselors, librarians, school nurses and social workers.
These standards have been around in one form or another for over 45 years, and for good cause. Aside from a wealth of academic literature that suggests education in the arts supports the development and critical thinking ability of students, the presence of health care professionals, social workers and guidance counselors in our schools has become a fundamental part of meeting students’ and families’ educational needs in the 21st century.
Increasingly, districts have recognized the importance of social, emotional and physical well-being to a child’s ability to learn and excel in the classroom. Instead of making it easier for cash strapped schools, which many are after weathering state cuts to education over the last four years, to walk away from standards that invest in children in a holistic way, the state board has a responsibility to help districts meet these new challenges head-on.
As students and families are more reliant upon services at the local level, it would be counterproductive to move in a direction that undoes common sense standards in the name of political philosophy.
The political philosophy behind local control is laudable, but unattainable unless the state, and indeed the board, are willing to finally work through the ultimate unfunded mandate in Ohio-public education for our children.
Please accept this letter as written testimony for your November 11 meeting.
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan, Ohio House District 58
Colaluca said he sees the state proposal as a sign of things to come.
“Right now, Ohio is sitting on $2 billion in the rainy day fund. And you know the dollars are not coming back to the locals,” Colaluca said.
He believes that eventually, communities are going to need to become more self-reliant.
“If we can’t support school districts, then we are not going to be able to sustain the programs that we have,” Colaluca said.
Other administrators say the changes could hurt districts that have gone to open enrollment as a way of attracting new students and boosting their struggling bottom lines.
“When you are reducing programs, the inclination is that your district is a little less attractive,” South Range Superintendent Dennis Dunham said.
A vote on the proposal is expected at next month’s regular meeting in Columbus.