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|03-06-03: It's never happened before
|Three Auglaize County districts consider switching to charter schools
By LANCE MIHM
The Daily Standard
An announcement that three local school districts may convert to
charter schools has officials at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) scrambling for
Minster school officials announced Monday that they, along with New
Knoxville and New Bremen boards of education, are all considering becoming charter
schools, also known as community schools. The switch would lead to more state funding for
the schools, causing the districts to rely less on local property taxes.
Charter schools originally were established to help turn around a poor
school or academically-struggling school. But there are no regulations saying other
districts, such as Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville, can't become charter schools.
The three Auglaize County schools are the first to suggest switching an
entire school district to a charter school. And the move is being proposed just to gain
more state funds, the local superintendents said.
"This has not happened before," Steve Burigana, executive
director of the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Community Schools, said. "I
can say we don't have the funds for this purpose. We can't give any clear answers right
now because we don't have clear answers. We will be checking into it."
Along with gaining more state funds, charter schools also are exempt
from some state regulations and must establish a governing board of community members.
These guidelines were set up to help get a struggling school back on the right track.
Minster Local Schools Superintendent Hal Belcher said the move is being
discussed to address an "unfair" state funding system. The Ohio Supreme Court
ruled last year the way the state funds schools is unconstitutional. State officials still
have not addressed the problem and just announced cuts to state funding for all public
"Basically, we are being punished for performing well with the
current system," New Knoxville Local Schools Superintendent Rod Russell said about
the current state funding system.
The state's school funding plan currently says a district must have
$4,949 per pupil for education. That amount increases to $5,083 per pupil for next school
The per pupil amount comes from state funding and each district's
property taxes. Wealthy and high-achieving districts typically end up getting less state
money and must rely more on local taxes.
In Minster, residents currently pay 73 percent of the per pupil cost
through local tax levies and only 27 percent comes from the state.
But this would change if Minster became a charter school. Charter
schools receive 100 percent state aid without any requirement of property tax revenue.
"That is why the current system does not work," said 78th
District State Rep. Derrick Seaver (D-Minster), who is a member of the state education
Under Ohio law, districts cannot assign students to attend charter
schools and must operate traditional schools to ensure parents have options, Burigana
Burigana said he feels the move is theoretical at this point.
"First of all, a conversion to a charter school has to create a
separate identity," Burigana said. "It doesn't allow the district to get rid of
the responsibility. This concept is built on many assumptions, including that all the
parents would send their children to the charter school."
Seaver said the move may not be as difficult as Burigana suggests.
"It is my understanding that they (the schools) can do this,"
he said. "This is one of the problems with the charter school issue. That was why I
voted against House Bill 364 (the legislation that opened charter schools to all
At the school board meeting Monday, Belcher said the school board would
arrange for alternate education for those students who would not want to attend a charter
school. But Belcher did not have a plan for how this would be done. The majority of the 31
parents at the special meeting were in favor of moving to a charter system.
Seaver said the topic has not yet been discussed in the General
Assembly, but he expects the recent news to force the legislature to address the
The state currently has 132 community schools, including several that
are sponsored by ODE, Ohio Community School Center President Stephen Ramsey said.
"I think this is a sign that we cannot allow charter schools to
continue to be funded this way," Seaver said. "We need to focus on the public
schools rather than the charter schools. We need to focus on this and find a way to fix
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