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Study: Most Ohio School Districts Cut Expenses in Face of State Budget Cuts

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Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Cutting $1.8 billion in state funding for public schools in the 2011 biennial budget has affected districts across Ohio. Never would have seen that one coming, right?

Of the 172 of Ohio's 613 K-12 school districts that responded to a Policy Matters Ohio survey, 65 percent said their planned spending was greater than their expected revenues. That's up from 45 percent in 2010.

If you've been reading your local paper, you've seen the stories about staff cutbacks and program cuts that districts made to close that budget gap. This report puts some numbers behind those stories:

  • 20 percent of districts said they had budget gaps of 5-10 percent in 2011, up from 7 percent in 2010;
  • The pain is shared: A majority of rural, suburban and urban districts reported budget deficits in 2011. Even most -- 74 percent -- of suburban districts with high median incomes reported deficits. (The report didn't include major urban districts in this area because too few responded.)
  • Staff attrition was the most popular way to cut costs. Sixty-seven percent of districts reported doing that.
  • Farther down the cost-cutting list: Cutting materials, supplies or equipment (reported by 44 percent of districts), pay-to-play (19 percent) and reducing course offerings (15 percent).
  • Least common cost-cutting move: Cutting "the arts" (12 percent). (See other steps districts have taken here.)
  • Few districts want to go to voters. Seventy-three percent said they had no plans to put a levy on the ballot in 2012.
  • And about 45 percent of districts reported having fewer students in 2011 than 2010.

The survey was conducted before the defeat of Issue 2, the referendum on collective bargaining law Senate Bill 5. SB 5 would have eliminated the requirement that schools collectively bargain over wages, hours and working conditions. It would also have prohibited collective bargaining over maximum class sizes.

If it had passed, SB 5 would have given school boards more power to control costs.

Voters said "no" to SB 5. But this week, Republican House leaders said parts of the bill could reappear. Here's Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, in the Daily Record:

"There are, obviously if you look at all the polling ... many parts to that effort which are popular with the public. Those things need to get addressed at some point. I think that they can't get addressed unless we have local jurisdictions ... stepping forward and saying we want this particular proposal to be adopted."

Policy Matters Ohio, which leans left, says there's a better solution to help school districts close budget shortfalls: Increase state funding. Report co-author Wendy Patton says:

"Our recommendation is to restore the revenue system and to reinvest in our schools. In the long term, ensuring that Ohio has a good sound school system is one of the best investments we can make as a people."

Comments from House Republicans suggest she shouldn't hold her breath on that. Rep. Matt Huffman again:

“There is not a pot of gold in Columbus that is going to be delivered to local officials."

The State Budget and Ohio's Schools

StateImpact Ohio Categories