The highest court in Ohio has ordered both sides in the state’s decade-long school finance lawsuit to agree on a settlement—and an outside mediator will be called in to provide a fresh perspective.
Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer wrote in the latest majority opinion that the court will finally resolve the case if the dueling sides cannot. In the meantime, he directed both sides to choose a mediator from a list of national legal experts he provided.
“We are fully aware that we cannot order the parties to settle: We can only order the parties to accept the opportunity that we are providing to facilitate serious, realistic efforts to finally resolve the issues that separate them,” he wrote.
The 4-3 ruling, handed down Nov. 16, is the latest in DeRolph v. State of Ohio, which was filed in 1991 by rural schools seeking more state school aid. It had appeared that the Ohio Supreme Court had moved the case closer to resolution on Sept. 6 when it upheld the finance system as constitutional, but required a huge increase in education spending. (“School Finance System Upheld by Ohio Court,” Sept. 12, 2001.) In a surprise move last month, however, the court agreed to reconsider that ruling.
Justice Andrew Douglas agreed with the call for a mediated solution, but said the state must realize the talks might force a change in how Ohio pays for schools.
“The plaintiffs have consistently argued, and I have agreed and continue to agree, that what is necessary is a complete overhaul of the funding system including an end to heavy reliance on local property taxes,” he wrote in a concurring opinion.
Dissenting Justice Alice Robie Resnick responded that the state should support its past decisions that overturned the school finance system and required the state to provide more equitable funding for poorer school districts, both urban and rural.
“Once again, the state’s educational system is faced with further tweaking, while the fundamental changes to the overall system will be lacking,” she wrote, warning that reliance on property taxes to pay the bulk of school costs could continue “unabated.”
Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, welcomed the high court’s action.
“For several months, I’ve said that if the supreme court orders us to mediate the DeRolph decision, I would welcome the opportunity to do so,” he said in a statement.
A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Ohio Supreme Court Wants a Pact In Finance Case; Calls For Mediator