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Budget Woes Seen Imperiling Cincinnati Reforms

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Cincinnati's widely watched school-reform efforts could be among the victims as the district faces its deepest budget cuts in decades.

Superintendent J. Michael Brandt has proposed slashing spending by $31.4 million, or nearly 10 percent, to balance the district's budget in the coming school year.

The proposed cuts would affect all aspects of the 50,000-student district and curtail some of the district's school-reform initiatives, Mr. Brandt said last week.

But, Mr. Brandt added, the district has no choice--its costs are rising, it lacks new sources of revenue, and it has been downsizing and cutting back for several years.

The school system's leaders "have run out of cuts that will not damage children's education and derail reform," district and teachers' union officials said in a joint letter asking the state education department for help.

"Our problem is the way the schools are funded in Ohio," said Lynn Marmer, a member of the school board who blamed inequities in the state's school-finance formula and tax laws for the district's financial problems.

The board expects to vote on the proposed budget reductions next month.

If Cincinnati voters reject a property-tax levy being put before them in November, the district will need to immediately trim an additional $10 million in spending, Mr. Brandt has said.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said. "You do the responsible things, and, because of the way the state funding workings, you still find yourself in a financial crisis."

Risky Divestments

The superintendent's budget-reduction plan, developed with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, calls for the elimination of 400 positions, including 130 teachers, about 120 instructional assistants, nearly 50 counselors, and 40 central-office administrators.

Under the plan, both middle and high schools have no librarians. Middle schools have no counselors, and high schools have only one, whose focus is college and career guidance.

The district would have a total budget of $298 million.

Mr. Brandt also has proposed reducing funding for the district's acclaimed teacher training and peer-review programs, as well as for its special school-based programs built on various national reform models.

"All of the investments we have made in reform are at risk," Thomas J. Mooney, the president of the C.F.T., said.

At public hearings on the proposed reductions this month, parents appeared especially upset by Mr. Brandt's proposal to reduce, by a third, funding for magnet schools.

The programs have been credited with bringing many middle-class children back into the district, and some parents have threatened to pull their children out of the public schools if their magnet programs deteriorate.

Fighting City Hall

Cincinnati district officials maintained last week that the school system cannot be blamed for its financial problems.

The district has balanced its previous two budgets, cut its central-office administration by 70 percent, and reduced spending by nearly $33 million over the past three years, they said. And the district cannot cut wages without violating contracts and losing teachers, officials noted.

Ms. Marmer said that state officials were largely to blame for the district's budget problems.

"Schools are stuck in a funding mechanism that does not take inflation into account and does not allow for any growth," she said.

The district is also involved in a lawsuit challenging the state's school-funding mechanism as unconstitutional. A county court judge ruled in the district's favor last year, but the state has appealed the decision. (See Education Week, 7/13/94.)

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