CUYAHOGA FALLS — This year the Woodridge Local Schools district will receive $850 per student from the state, one of three districts in Summit County that receives less than $1,000 per student.
In light of the situation, district officials are looking at ways to push for school funding reform, as well as hoping to recoup money it lost to the now-defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, once Ohio’s largest K-12 online charter school.
Even though voters approved an 8.19-mill operating levy in November, school officials and community members met in December with the Woodridge Advocacy Network to learn more about school funding reform efforts from keynote speaker Ryan Pendleton, treasurer and CFO of Akron Public Schools.
Ohio State Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima), and Rep. John Patterson (D-Ashtabula County), co-chair a work group with plans to introduce legislation this year for a new mechanism to fund public education in the state. The measure would be part of the next biennial budget in 2019.
"While a full analysis is not yet available, we too believe the new method will be helpful locally, as funding would no longer be solely based on property values but would be based on a combination of factors, including not only property wealth but also residential income," said Woodridge Superintendent Walter Davis.
Davis also said the district hopes to recover a significant amount of money from ECOT, which officials say has cost the district $660,000 in funding since 2003.
"It represents just a fraction of the total amount lost to charter schools, but is, nonetheless, a significant amount of money," Davis said.
For every student who attends a charter school, that student’s share of state funding is deducted from money it receives from the state.
The state has ordered ECOT, which opened in 2000, to repay about $80 million for claiming payment for thousands of students who it said did not meet minimum participation requirements. The school closed last January.
"The ECOT issue is especially troubling to us," Davis said. "Here, we have an e-school that allegedly falsified enrollment data in order to collect more funding from local school districts. That money came from public school districts in Ohio."
In August Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 87, which would return money to public school districts instead of the state’s general fund if a charter school fails. The state claims ECOT over-billed $60.35 million in 2015-16 and $19.3 million in 2017.
Although then-Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a "complaint for recovery of public funds" in September against individuals and companies tied to ECOT, several school districts — including Woodridge — filed a motion to "intervene" in the case because of a potential conflict of interest, as now-Gov. DeWine and other politicians have received large contributions from charter schools when running for office, according to the motion.
"Our hope is to be ‘in the know’ as this case moves through the courts," Davis said. "We have long been vocal about the way charter schools take money from the public. As such it makes sense for us to be a party to this case. I would think that any school that lost money to ECOT would want to join in.
"Our view is that money should be returned to us," Davis added.
In the past couple of years, Woodridge schools has invited students to return to public school. But it isn’t always easy for students who have been sitting at home in front of a computer to return to a classroom.
"If they come back, we take them," Davis said. "They find the public school is harder. They’re expected to be in school and there are consequences for negative behavior."
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.