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Proposed Education Cuts Draw Anger

Friday, February 21, 2003 at 2:29 PM

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Proposed cuts at the state level drew an angry response from school superintendents Thursday. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.

Governor Taft’s proposed cuts include a two-and-a-half percent reduction in education funding, sending superintendents into a frenzy over how to handle it. In Cleveland, schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett the move would mean the loss of $8.5 million just in the next four months, and more than $25 million over an entire school year. She portrayed the likely results as catastrophic.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Simply put, the proposed reductions, which will take immediate effect, will devastate the Cleveland Municipal School District.

But Byrd-Bennett didn’t stop there. She said this latest state action is another in a long litany of state-initiated policy moves put in place since her arrival here four years ago that she says have subtracted dollars from the district’s annual budget: $20 million annually from the desegregation case, $32 million from reductions in the so-called cost of doing business allowance, $18 million this year from vouchers, $33.8 million to support charter schools, $20 million she says would have come from the Supreme Court’s DeRolph school funding decision - had the court not reversed itself. Byrd-Bennett’s statements boiled down to a wholesale indictment of Ohio’s commitment to education.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: The proposed budget reduction is yet another shameful chapter in Ohio’s tragic novel of funding and nurturing the state’s most precious resource - the 1.8 million students that attend its public schools.

Other superintendents concur with her assessment.

Sylvester Small: This is a devastating loss. This is a blow that will affect our ability to deliver education as we know it.

Sylvester Small, who heads Akron’s public schools, says his district will lose 4 million dollars under the proposal. He mirrored Byrd-Bennett’s frustration with state policy makers, and especially over the failure of the Supreme Court to follow through on its decisions in the DeRolph case.

Sylvester Small: Does not court opinions mean anything in the state of Ohio? I mean, if I as a superintendent or an individual defied a court order where would I be?

As for this round of cuts, both Byrd-Bennett and Small blame the legislature for failing to heed Governor’s Taft’s warning to raise taxes - or else. But Jaimie Callender, who is Vice Chair of the house education committee, has a different take.

Jaimie Callender: I agree with the superintendents that this is just unacceptable behavior out of Columbus.

Callender says the state has - in his words - a sacred trust to educate children. And, he says, it’s the governor who’s betraying that trust. He says budget legislation still making its way through the general assembly expressly prohibits further cuts to education. And he defended holding the line on tax increases, saying these are difficult times.

Jaimie Callender: And it’s difficult not just for the state, but for the families too. And we’re attempting to not burden the families with an increased tax burden at a time when their dollar is stretched more than any other time in the past.

Callender says the bill contains some temporary measures, such as changing sales tax collections from monthly to weekly, that will help with the immediate crunch. In the meantime, he says, Taft could start closing the deficit by cutting at state agencies, including the Department of Education. He says that’s preferable to cutting funds that go directly to local schools. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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