State Journal

A New Approach

Ohio mayors convene to discuss strategies for raising school aid.

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Ohio’s mayors may turn to voters to support a ballot initiative that would change the way schools are financed.

Although courts in Ohio have repeatedly declared that the state’s system of school finance, which relies heavily on property taxes, is unconstitutional, they ended their involvement in the case in 2003. That left the pricey problem up to the Republican-controlled legislature, which is now at an impasse over the issue.

Frustrated by political inaction, the Ohio Mayors’ Education Roundtable, a coalition of 21 mayors, met Aug. 11 in Canton, Ohio, with their schools superintendents and representatives from roughly a dozen education groups, including the teachers’ unions and the state school boards’ association, to seek common ground on school funding.

The legislature has abdicated its responsibility to adequately fund schools, leaving the matter to the mayors, argued Laraine Duncan, a deputy mayor in Akron. Ms. Duncan said in an interview that Akron Mayor Don Plusquelic is ready to lead the charge.

The political leverage and momentum the mayors could bring to the years-long finance debate could also attract business leaders to the table.

But the “breadth and depth” of the mayors’ commitment to changing the funding formula may be the key to their success, said Jim Betts, the executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based Alliance for Adequate School Funding.

The Ohio Mayors’ Education Roundtable, which was formed under the direction of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and financed by Ohio-based foundations, started meeting last year.

The first members were the mayors of Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown. That group has expanded to include the schools superintendents in those cities and the mayors of 13 more municipalities.

Fritz Edelstein, a senior adviser for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said mayors nationwide are realizing that they must become involved in maintaining and fostering thriving public school systems in their cities. Cities in other states are working to form their own education roundtables, he said.

Vol. 24, Issue 44, Page 22

Published in Print: August 10, 2005, as A New Approach
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