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Small schools worry about funding change

Plan designed to give more freedom to locals, Ohio leader says.State switch will cost districts more, Champaign superintendent says.

A new funding formula implemented this month for Ohio’s educational service centers is leading some to say the change hurts smaller school districts.

“Smaller school districts are the loser,” said Mechanicsburg Exempted Village School District’s Superintendent Dan Kaffenbarger.

Kaffenbarger is in a unique situation: he is a superintendent for a local school district but also the superintendent for Madison/Champaign County’s educational service center.

The money helps pay for services the ESCs provide, including preschools, curriculum directors, attendance officers, physical therapists and special education coordinators — services too expensive for many school districts to provide in house, according to Kaffenbarger.

Under the old system, school districts were funded on a unit basis determined by the number of teachers and students in the district, and the money would be automatically deducted from the school district’s foundation funding to the ESC.

In Champaign County that money was pooled together and distributed to each school system equally.

Under the new system, the money from the state is no longer pooled together by districts and sent straight to the county ESCs. Instead, the money is allocated on a per pupil basis and given directly to the school district to spend how it chooses.

Craig Burford, executive director of the Ohio Educational Service Center Association, said the idea is to create an open marketplace for ESC services.

“You (school districts) know what you have to get done. We will let you decide how to get it done locally,” said Burford.

The new system would create more competition among ESCs, he said, and, in the end, better services.

However, under the old system Mechanicsburg would see about $50,000 annually of the pooled money and that would help pay for a curriculum director for the school district, according to Kaffenbarger.

He said he expects to receive $28,000 through the new system to dedicate for that position - leaving $22,000 Mechanicsburg will have to find in its budget.

Kaffenbarger said smaller schools used to be subsidized in the pool of money by larger schools.

He said administrators in larger school districts will not feel the effect of the new system because they can afford and have the need to hire certain services in house — a special education coordinator, for example.

“There will be no impact on Springfield City Schools,” Springfield Superintendent Dave Estrop said.

Smaller school districts are already feeling it, but to what extent is still unknown.

Triad Local School District Treasurer Connie Cohn said she does not know how much the new funding system will cost her schools mostly because the ESC does not know how much it needs to charge for services.

Since the ESCs are no longer getting money automatically deducted from school district’s foundation funding, it does not know what the demand will be for its services.

Therefore, Triad Local Schools is continuing to use its ESC’s services, but does not know how much it will be charged for the services in the end.

Another factor that will mix things up is the week of Oct. 6 was count week in Ohio, when the state determines how many students are at each school.

The new funding numbers first came October 11 to the school systems, but the amount will change based on new student counts.

Even with the reallocation of funds, Kaffenbarger expects little change in services for now, and Burford agrees.

The structures and institutions already are set up, and it would be hard for a school district to change service providers or create a position in house midyear, explains Kaffenbarger.

Kaffenbarger said school administrators next year, though, will have to look hard at where and how they are spending their money.

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