By Lance Mihm
PIQUA -- School employees from throughout the area insist schools need more government funding, but local legislators say school funding won't be fixed until the tax burden on Ohio residents is lowered.
A school funding forum held at Piqua High School on Wednesday night was one of 33 held simultaneously across the state.
District 12 State Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and District 77 Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, talked with the nearly 100 people attending, which included a large group from St. Marys. Four teachers and administrators spoke of funding problems at their respective districts.
"The public is being forced to choose between good schools and fire or police protection," Troy teacher Paula Benfer said about all the various levies residents are facing.
Judi York, a principal at a primary school in Piqua, said loss of funding in the schools is causing stressful situations. "We've lost the services of too many workers," York said. "All we get done is putting out fires. There isn't a chance to do anything proactive."
Jack Mann, treasurer at Preble Shawnee school, spoke about the loss of staff at his school.
"It is costing us good teachers," he said. "We have lost 101 of 126 hired certified personnel in the last 10 years. And it has been to resignation, not retirement. Our teachers deserve more."
Not to the liking of the audience, Faber and Jordan both said they feel the overall tax burden in Ohio needs to lowered first, before working on school funding.
"We need to focus on the big picture," Faber said. "If we continue to slide backwards in our tax burden, we will have problems that are are much larger than what we have today. We have to focus on making Ohio a low to moderate tax state, so businesses will want to locate here and pay taxes."
Jordan referred to the recent rejection of Hyundai to build a plant in Wapakoneta as a sign that taxes were too high in the state.
"Every single condition that exists today existed years ago when Honda built a plant here," Jordan said. "The one difference is our tax burden rated lower then than it does now, and Hyundai chose to go somewhere else."
The gradual repeal of the inventory tax was explained as a step in the right direction that would ultimately help schools, both elected officials said.
"The inventory will be more difficult on some schools than others," Jordan said. "Understand the overall picture in this state is not good. Voters are tired of the taxes they have to pay. We have to get our tax burden in line."
Faber also said communities need to keep local control of their schools.
"If you ask for more money from the state, you are going to give up control," he said.
Jordan said he feels the state has made considerable investment in education, with a 76 percent increase in funding per pupil during the last 10 years. Jordan reminded the audience that Ohio ranked 14th nationally in school funding.
"I guess it is never as much as we like, but 14th isn't that bad," Jordan said. "I think it is optimistic."
Betsy Marshall of Eaton, the Democrat challenger facing Faber in the November election, said both Faber and Jordan are failing their districts.
"You see failure of levies across the state," Marshall said. "These gentlemen have done nothing to help us."
However, Jordan argued that things aren't as bad as they seem in some aspects.
"We rate relatively good compared to the rest of the country," Jordan said. "I would argue that things are not bad as it may seem in Ohio. There has been a 30-year regression in our tax burden. We need to provide a climate for our economy to grow."