SILVER LAKE — While the state of the Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge Schools is good, according to each district’s leader, with positive developments and future goals, the continued problems with state funding and lean budgets still plague not only local districts but all Ohio districts.

“Their job is tough in this day and age,” said Mayor Don Walters during opening remarks at the annual State of the Schools address, scheduled during the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Nov. 14 luncheon at the Silver Lake Country Club.

Todd Nichols, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, focused his address on the district’s five-year strategic plan. For example, one goal he highlighted was to increase the performance index for students with disabilities by five percent in English language areas and math.

“As we are making the transition to requirements associated with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the rigor of assessments have increased as have the expectations,” Nichols said. “We focused on our students with disabilities because they have been underperforming for many years although we have seen progress recently, many of these students cross into other subgroups as well. By focusing our attention in this area and providing professional development on research-driven instructional strategies, we anticipate higher levels of achievement for all students.”

Another goal is to increase kindergarten readiness experiences.

“This is necessary as we participate along with Woodridge and the other school districts in Summit County to focus on access to high-quality early childhood education programs,” Nichols said. “The effort is being spearheaded by the Summit Education Initiative and has resulted in 42 early childhood coalitions across the county. The Summit County United Way effort is focused on this initiative and both gubernatorial candidates touted the importance of early childhood education especially for students in economically disadvantaged situations. The community should be highly interested in this effort as studies have connected increased access to these high quality programs to longitudinal increases in economic development.”

Nichols also talked about the Master Facilities Plan in process for the district; the goal, he said, was to have a plan together by April 2019, and have a combination levy on the ballot by November 2019.

The district also will work to attract and retain students in the Cuyahoga Falls schools.

“Given funding is based, in part, on enrollment, our objective over the last few years has been to offset the number of students who have chosen to be educated outside of the district by increasing the number of students that we accept via open enrollment,” Nichols said. “The result of effort is increased revenue for the district. That said, we are alarmed by the number of residential students choosing to be educated elsewhere. Thus, we have set a goal to reduce the number of students who choose to exit the district.”

Woodridge celebrates levy passage

Walter Davis, the superintendent of the Woodridge Local Schools, said he was grateful for the passage of Issue 6, a 5-year 8.19-mill levy that will raise $4 million for district operations. This was the third time the district had a levy on the ballot for new operating funds.

“Levy campaigns are not what they used to be,” Davis said. “I should know. We’ve had lots of them. The days of knocking on doors, shaking hands and publishing newspaper ads have evolved into something else entirely. The impact of direct mailing and robo-calls seem low. Instead, we’ve found that success comes from well-orchestrated tweets, posts and internet chats. Trained volunteers flooding the internet with positivity, highlighting the ‘what-ifs,’ sharing the ‘good news,’ refuting the negativity with quick facts, figures and the graphics designed to tell the story – these strategies seem to have what it takes to turn the tide.

“The power of social media cannot be minimized as we seek to make sense of our levy victory. Ordinary people taking it upon themselves to champion the cause, to talk to their circle of acquaintances, five to 10 people at a time, to spread the word, to garner commitments, to reach out repeatedly to the same people to ensure they vote.”

However, Davis was blunt in his assessment on how the state funded schools in general and Woodridge in particular.

“The state of Ohio is not kind to our school district,” Davis said. “Ohio bases school district funding entirely on the total property value of the district, per pupil. When that calculation is made, the result is not good for our Woodridge community. As you likely know, our school district receives only a fraction of our revenue from the state of Ohio. State funding this year is just a bit more than $800 per student. We receive less state support than Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Tallmadge, Kent and just about every other school district in the region. Because of the state’s antiquated and inequitable funding formula, we are forced to rely on local property tax payers to provide what is needed to keep our district whole. While the passage of Issue 6 is huge for our district for the near term, it alone does not solve our funding problem.”

Davis implored those attending the luncheon to encourage the state legislature to change how schools are funded.

“The Ohio General Assembly will not fix the bigger issue if our Board of Education is alone in making the plea,” Davis said. “The Ohio General Assembly will act if they hear from you. The legislature will act if business owners, leaders, parents, and community members demand it ... When van loads of soccer moms converged on the statehouse a few years back, the legislature listened. Shortly after those protests the Ohio General Assembly did away with the old PARRC Tests that we in the schools had been complaining about for years. It took the community, a large group of parents and concerned citizens to force action. We are convinced that a school funding fix is possible, but only if we can engage and empower the electorate to demand it.”

The Woodridge Advocacy Network, which is part of The Ohio Public School Advocacy Network, is a step in getting people involved with school funding reform, Davis said.

“Our network is made up of community members,” Davis said. “Right now, just over 50 people meet with us periodically to learn what they can do to help spread the message.”

As well as the passage of Issue 6, Davis highlighted the completion and opening of the new Woodridge Elementary School; the renovations at the high school, which included a new gym and new classrooms; and re-roofing the middle school.

In addition, Davis congratulated the boys and girls cross country teams, both teams which competed in the state Cross Country Tournament. This was the 14th consecutive year for the girls’ team and the 15th consecutive year for the boys’ team. The boys’ team won the state championship, defeating St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. This was the eighth state championship in the last 12 years, Davis said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC