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Budget Cuts Erase Gains Made by Ohio Schools

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Every school district in Ohio stands to lose 7 percent of its income for the current school year--and must absorb the loss in the last four months of the school year--under a statutory plan to eliminate the state's projected $1-billion deficit.

Ohio's current budget crisis comes just three months after the legislature found it necessary to raise some $1.3 billion in new taxes--primarily sales taxes--and boosted the two-year state education budget by 22 percent.

Rather than making the modest recovery expected when the budget was passed last fall, Ohio's economy has worsened, and it now appears that state revenues will be $1 billion less than anticipated through the end of fiscal 1983, said Roger J. Lulow, assistant superintendent in the state department of public instruction. And the gains won by the public schools last fall will be nearly erased.

"If something doesn't turn around, there'll be a $531-million cut for the schools in the next 18 months," Mr. Lulow said. "In real dollars, they will have less to operate the schools on than last year."

Since welfare, which takes up about one-third of Ohio's budget, has been exempted from budget cuts by the legislature, the entire reduction will fall on other state agencies. "Everybody's taking about the same cut," Mr. Lulow said. "But once you exempt welfare, education is the biggest part of the budget. The big losers in dollars are elementary and secondary education and higher education."

Reduced by Same Proportion

The distribution of the cuts in school aid will be determined by a new state law that is intended to ensure that poor school systems do not bear the brunt of the state's financial problems.

"An attempt is made to reduce everybody's total income by the same proportion," Mr. Lulow explained. "The larger the percentage of your income that comes from the state, the smaller your cut [in state aid]," Mr. Lulow said.

The state contributes approximately 45 percent of the average Ohio district's budget, but property-poor districts receive a substantially larger state share, while districts with high property wealth receive a smaller state supplement.

Thus, although every district will lose 7 percent of its overall income, the reduction in state aid ranges from 4 percent for the poorest districts to about 50 percent for the wealthiest.

The cuts will not be put into effect until at least late February, Mr. Lulow said, because all state expenditures must be approved by a controlling board made up of six legislators and a representative of the governor. The controlling board deferred action on the cut last week, so schools will receive their usual January aid payments.

"It really has school officials in a box," Mr. Lulow said. "They don't know what to plan for ... The real problem for the districts is that they have already committed the money [appropriated last fall]. They entered into contracts in November and December."

Despite the serious problems posed by the large midyear cut, Mr. Lulow said, Ohio's schools may have fared better than the schools elsewhere in the economically depressed Midwest.

"When we got the increase in early November, we checked with other states, and there simply were no other states getting any increase," he said. "The net effect is that we still have $200 million more to spend than last year."

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