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School districts should begin sharing services

March 27, 2011
Morning Journal News

Several letters to the editor have questioned the need for United Local to build a new school.

The school district is seeking passage of a 3.92-mill levy to raise the local match of $9.7 million to construct a $38 million building that would replace the oldest parts of the current K-12 campus.

And while we know that nearly every other school district in our county has taken advantage of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) money, which was generated by a settlement with the tobacco industry in the 1990s, we question whether this is the right time to be pursuing such a project. Yes, some will argue that the money is available now and the state will provide the remaining 79 percent of the cost, offering an economical project for local districts.

But with the local population dwindling and enrollment in most county schools declining, we wonder if all of these magnificent new buildings we're constructing will be needed in the not-so-distant future.

Lisbon Schools Superintendent Don Thompson appears to be able to read the writing on the wall, and other local school chiefs need to take heed as well.

At last week's Board of Education meeting Thompson proposed a school calendar to bring Lisbon in line with the same school-year calendars adopted by five of the 11 school districts in Columbiana County. This was done to put schools in the position eventually to begin sharing services, such as busing, to save money.

Thompson also noted that district enrollment has declined by 350 students since 1997. "The board of education is going to have some difficult decisions to make in the future," Thompson said.

We believe all of the local school districts should start making some of those difficult decisions easier by beginning to consolidate services and coordinate calendars now.

Schools have already experienced a 7 percent cut from the loss of stimulus money received last year to fill a funding gap. That federal stimulus funding is no longer available.

Now schools must face up to an additional 15 percent cut in state funding over the next two years in order to eliminate the $8 billion state budget deficit.

Too many redundant services and too much overlap in offerings still exist among Columbiana County schools. Paring back and sharing more appear to be the only way to get through this funding crisis while preparing us for the ultimate consolidation of districts which appears to be imminent.

Perhaps a moratorium needs to be imposed by the state on new school construction projects until our deficit problem is resolved and we determine just how many school buildings we will truly need in the future.



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