Monday, November 4, 2013 at 5:41 PM
When Ohioans go to the polls tomorrow, they are likely to vote on school board candidates. And this year, there’s a common theme of fiscal responsibility among some Tea Party candidates in various areas of the state. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the outcome of these races could change the future spending in some schools.
When Kelly Kohls became a member of the Springboro City Schools a few years ago, the district was reeling from four failed levies. But Kohls didn’t focus on raising more money for the district. She focused on spending.
“It wasn’t that we needed more money,” Kohls said. “It was much more that we needed to spend differently. And so when I got on the school board, I certainly advocated for a couple years, and I was the lone voice, advocating we spend differently. Part of that was to stop some of the administrative bonus packages that we were giving. That would save us a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. Tighten up contracts. We found many where the money was not coming back into the district that we now have coming back into the district.”
Kohls isn’t running for reelection in Springboro, but she’s supporting a couple of candidates who she says will likely follow her philosophy.
In fact, as the president of the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council, she’s been holding workshops to help school board candidates throughout the state learn how to be more fiscally conservative with public school district tax dollars. And she’s hoping those candidates will be elected.
Kohls says school board members must learn to change the way they think about running schools.
“The fiscal picture for education in Ohio, the public education system, is going to fail,” she said. “Simply everybody is taking their systems to pretty much fiscal emergency, always coming back to the taxpayers for more, the taxpayers are tapped out, they’re saying no in larger numbers than they ever said no...There’s another way to do business.”
Innovation Ohio, a think tank that’s looked at school funding and spending, says there’s another factor at work here. Spokesman Dale Butland says local school districts are faced with tighter budgets now, because state leaders have shifted the tax burden from the state’s income tax payers to local tax payers.
“The school districts from one end of the state to another have made cuts right and left,” Butland said. “They have cut back on academic programs. They’ve increased fees for participation in sports and other activities. They have laid teachers off. They’ve asked teachers and other school personnel to pay more for their health insurance, for their pensions. They’ve cut and cut, but at some point, you need money. So that’s where these local levies are coming from, and it’s been a giant shell game.”
Butland says voters should remember school board members are making tough decisions about what to cut and at some point, they can’t cut anymore without cutting quality.
Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck says these low-turnout elections are often when more conservative candidates can find the most success.
“The ability of some of these groups to be able to take over a school board, or at least to elect some of their supporters to a school board, is greater in these off-year elections than it is when the electorate is far larger and more partisan,” Beck said.
Beck points out elections of fiscally conservative school board members could make a big difference in some districts.
“If they are elected to school boards in any appreciable number, it will change the nature of the school board,” he said. “Less willing to put levies on the ballot. Less willing to work out arrangements with local teachers unions that are often seen as enemies by some of these groups. Less willing to support more more secular public education.”
Beck says there’s another factor to remember here. He notes more students today are opting for private schools, charter schools, religious schools and other options. He says that means the parents of those children will no longer have the same relationship with the public school district that they once had.
And that, he says, means more parents and taxpayers might be less willing to fund districts like they have in the past.
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