Tea Party School Board Candidates Could Shape Future Funding

The Ohio School Board Leadership Council teaches school board candidates how to be more fiscally conservative and cut spending.(Photo: Ohio School Board Leadership Council)
The Ohio School Board Leadership Council teaches school board candidates how to be more fiscally conservative and cut spending.(Photo: Ohio School Board Leadership Council)

When Ohioans go to the polls today, they are likely to vote on school board candidates. And this year, there’s a common theme of fiscal responsibility among some Tea Party candidates in various areas of the state.

The outcome of the races could change the future spending in some schools.

When Kelly Kohls became a member of the Springboro City Schools a few years ago, the district was reeling from four failed levies. Kohls didn’t focus on raising more money for the district.

She’s focused on spending.

“I felt fairly confident that it wasn’t that we needed more money. It was much more that we needed to spend differently. And so when I got on the school board, I certainly advocated for a couple of years, and I was the lone voice, that advocated we spend differently,” said Kohls.

“Part of that was to stop some of the administrative bonus contracts that we were giving. That would save us a couple of hundred dollars a year. Tighten up contracts. We found many where the money was not coming back into the district that we now have coming back into the district.

Kohls isn’t running for re-election in Springboro Schools but she’s supporting a couple of candidates that she says will likely follow her philosophy. In fact, as the President of the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council, she’s been holding workshops to help school board candidates throughout the state learn how to be more fiscally conservative with public school district tax dollars.

And she’s hoping those candidates will be elected. Kohls says school board members must learn to change the way they think about running schools.

“The fiscal picture for education in Ohio, the public education picture, is going to fail. Pretty much everybody is taking their systems to fiscal emergency, always coming back to the taxpayers for more, the taxpayers are tapped out, they are saying no in larger numbers than they ever had.

There’s another way to do business.

Innovation Ohio, a think tank that’s looked at school funding and spending, says there’s another factor at work here. Spokesman Dale Butland says local school districts are faced with tighter budgets now because state leaders have shifted the tax burden from the state’s income tax payers to local tax payers.

The school districts from one end of the state to another have made cuts right and left. They have cut back on academic programs.

“They’ve increased fees for participation in sports and other activities. They have laid teachers off. They’ve asked teachers to pay more their health insurance and pensions. So that’s where these local levies are coming from and it’s been a giant shell game.”

Butland says voters should remember school board members are making tough decisions about what to cut and at some point, they can’t cut anymore without cutting quality. A political science professor at the Ohio State University, Paul Beck, says these low turnout elections are often when more conservative candidates can find the most success.

“The ability of some of these groups to be able to take over a school board or at least to elect some of their supporters to a school board is greater in these off year elections than it is when the electorate is far greater and more partisan,” Beck says.

Beck points out elections of fiscally conservative school board members could make a big difference in some districts.

“If they are elected to school boards in any appreciable number, it could make a big difference to the school board. Less willing to put levies on the ballot. Less willing to work out arrangements with local teachers unions that are often seen as enemies by some of these groups. Less willing to support more secular education.”

Beck says there’s another factor to remember here. He notes more students today are opting for private schools, for charter schools, for religious schools and other options. He says that means the parents of those children will no longer have the same relationship with the public school district that they once had.

And that, he says, means more parents and taxpayers might be less willing to fund districts like they have in the past.

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