Unusual Settlement Ends Annexation Dispute in Ohio

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Under an agreement that is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the Columbus (Ohio) City School District and 12 neighboring suburban districts will begin sharing revenue and academic programs.

Officials said the agreement, which goes into effect this week, promises to end more than six years of battling over the transfer of school-district territory in areas previously annexed by the city. Such transfers are not automatic under Ohio law.

The plan worked out and signed earlier this year by the superintendents of the districts involved stipulates that 77 square miles of territory annexed by the city will continue to belong to separate school districts.

In exchange for dropping its claim to the annexed areas, the city school system will receive nearly half of the tax revenue generated by new economic development in those areas. The city district's share could amount to $1 million in additional revenue in each of the next three years, according to state officials.

The agreement also mandates that when any unincorporated territory is annexed by the city in the future, it will automatically be transferred to the city school district.

In addition, the accord establishes an areawide agency to develop educational programs and services that would be shared by the 13 participating school districts.

"We're trading the present for the future," said Robert Barrow, a budget budget analyst for the Columbus city schools and member of the negotiating team that drew up the plan last spring.

"With this agreement, we have changed the rules of the game for economic development in the area," he said. "For the past several years, the city schools' interest in development has been ignored."

'Unique' Solution

The Columbus plan is an "absolutely unique" solution to the fairly common problem of territorial disputes among school districts in large metropolitan areas, according to Michael Casserly, legislative director of the Council of Great City Schools.

The roots of the Columbus dispute go back to the period after World I War II, when that city, like many others, began annexing land in adjoining suburban school districts.

n Ohio, such land at that time automatically became part of the city school system. But in 1955, the legislature decided that such transfers would no longer be automatic, but would have to be requested by the city district. It also empowered the state board of education to rule on such requests.

By 1979, the 12 Franklin County districts involved in the dispute had been annexed by Columbus, but the city had not requested their transfer into the jurisdiction of the city school system.

In that year, however, the Columbus district was ordered under a federal desegregation suit to begin mandatory busing of students. Parents in the suburban districts, fearful that their children would be required to transfer to the city schools to help provide racial balance, pressed the legislature to amend the law to allow residents of annexed areas to reject proposed school-district transfers.

The legislature refused, but compromised by enacting-and repeatedly extending-a moratorium on such transfers.

Moratorium

Earlier this year, state lawmakers warned the Franklin County superintendents that the moratorium would finally be lifted and advised them to devise their own solution to the dispute.

A bill that ends the moratorium, effective Nov. 30, and formally allows districts to enter into agreements such as the one reached in Franklin County was passed by the legislature and signed into law this past summer. (See Education Week, Sept. 10,1986.)

The legislature also informally agreed to finance for three years the suburban districts' share of the tax revenue owed to the Columbus I schools under the agreement, according to an aide to the chairman of the Senate education committee.

Appropriation of the funds will not be considered until next year. The agreement contains a provision that would cancel adoption of the plan if the legislature fails to make the appropriation.

At least two other districts--Akron and Toledo--are seen as likely candidates to forge similar agreements, according to state officials.

It is difficult to determine if similar arrangements could also be made by districts in other states with different laws on school-district jurisdiction, said Mr. Casserly of the Great City Schools.

Generally, he noted, the sharing of resources and programs by districts has only occurred under the pressures of a desegregation suit, such as the one in St. Louis that has prompted voluntary cross-district busing under a court-approved desegregation plan.

Vol. 06, Issue 03, Page 4

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