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Amid funding questions, open enrollment remains

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Transportation meeting
The school board will hold a community of the whole meeting on Aug. 5, at 6 p.m., in the boardroom at Mills Lawn to discuss the school lunch program and this year’s transportation policy. Village Planner Ed Amrhein will present maps of the village which identify which neighborhoods are still eligible for transportation, and discuss safe routes to school.

Board members are expected to vote upon the school lunch provider, and to handle other items that cannot be postponed until the next regularly scheduled meeting.

First, consider a national recession with deep effects on state and local revenue streams. Add a host of educational reform standards proposed by the governor in the state’s hotly contested biennium budget. Then, pass an education plan (and supporting budget) that is based on these state and local revenue streams that are not only decreasing, but shifting in other unpredictable ways. Welcome to the Yellow Springs school district, where complicated funding factors have left administrators, teachers and parents with many questions, but few firm answers.

With the passing of the state budget, which was signed into law on July 17 by Governor Ted Strickland, local school districts are beginning to assess the fiscal effects of changes, new mandates and recession-related funding cuts from the state. While some effects remain unclear, one thing is known. Open enrollment in Yellow Springs will continue next year almost unchanged, according to District Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller and the Ohio Department of Education.

While funding will go down slightly per student, fears that open enrollment would be eliminated or phased out through the governor’s sweeping education reform proposals did not materialize in the final budget, Kitzmiller said in an interview this week.

While 58 percent of school districts in Ohio allow open enrollment, Yellow Springs is particularly dependent on the revenue stream that open enrollment brings into the district budget, according to Kitzmiller. Last year, 22 percent of the student body were open-enrolled from other districts, bringing in more than $870,000 to the district, as each open-enrolled student’s home district paid the Yellow Springs district about $5,732 for the year. According to the Ohio Department of Education, this figure will be closer to $5,713 per student in the coming year.

In the 2009–2010 school year, Kitzmiller expects open enrollment to constitute a full 12 percent of the district’s entire revenue stream, she said.

To put open enrollment funds into perspective, Kitzmiller noted that state payments to the district will only be about $200,000 more than those received from open enrollment.

According to Kitzmiller, many aspects of the recently-signed law are still being interpreted by the Ohio Department of Education, and data from another important aspect of school funding, local income tax receipts, are pending announcement on July 31.

The Yellow Springs district is heavily dependent upon local revenues, Kitzmiller said, which are made up of both property taxes and local income tax receipts. While income tax receipts remain the great unknown this year, with state tax analysts warning possible decreases of 40 percent from last year, local property taxes are fundamental to the structure of Yellow Springs school funding.

“The valuation of our property in Yellow Springs is very high, and when you take that total figure and divide it by the number of students we serve,” Kitzmiller said, the state views the local district as very wealthy in its funding calculations.

This means the district gets the least amount of state funding on a flat-line funded model, called “guaranteed funding,” Kitzmiller said. The district has been a guaranteed district since the late 1980s, which means funding from the state is mediated by the district’s payment cap — about $1,200 per student per year.

For instance, the new state budget includes a mandate for full-day kindergarten to be implemented in every district in Ohio by the 2010–2011 school year. Along with this mandate, according to the Ohio Department of Education, is a funding measure that will count each enrolled kindergarten child as a full-time equivalent, or FTE, student for the purposes of reimbursement in the coming school year. Previously, each kindergarten student in the state, regardless of being enrolled at a full-day or half-day kindergarten program, was only reimbursed as a half-day student.

But because of Yellow Spring’s guaranteed funding structure, this increased amount of reimbursement will only affect open enrollment kindergartners, according to Kitzmiller, who is taking a wait-and-see approach until the Ohio Department of Education convenes a gathering of all superintendents and treasurers in the state, a meeting where officials will explain their interpretation of the new two-year budget.

In an effort to balance declining revenues, local board members decided to implement an existing transportation policy, which in effect eliminates one entire route from the district’s bussing schedule. This policy will not cause older students to ride the same busses as the primary grades, a proposed change that concerned many parents last year, but will allow the district to have only one bus in operation during the before-school and after-school routes. Students who will no longer be bussed will need to find alternate ways to get to school this year.


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