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Ohio's rural schools struggle with economics and history to sell levies
That leaves the districts disproportinately dependent on the state and the feds

Ida Lieszkovszky
The open classroom concept of the 60s has been jerry-rigged to try to meet today's classroom needs.
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For many rural schools, state and federal dollars make up the bulk of their funding, often contributing up to 80 percent of a district’s budget. There’s a logical explanation for that; many haven’t passed a levy in years or even decades. State Impact Ohio’s Ida Lieszkovszky hit the road to find out why.

LIESZKOVSZKY: Rural schools and a hard sell

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It’s not uncommon to hear something like this from rural school superintendents:

“1977 would be the last time we passed a levy here.” Or  “Operating levy, 1976.” Or “We have not passed a levy since the mid 1990s.”

That’s Dave Quattrochi, superintendent of Carrollton Schools in rural Carol County; Kirk Glasgow, superintendent at Union Local schools in rural Belmont County and nd Tom Gibbs, the superintendent of Warren Local schools in Appalachian Washington County.

Since 2000, Gibbs' county has passed just 20 percent of its schools requests for new local money.

Ohio has a rural-urban funding gap, and it shows.

Reconfiguring where possible
Warren Local’s grade school is a remnant of the 1970s open classroom movement. There are no walls or doors between classrooms, and few windows. Over the years, the district added bookshelves and lockers as makeshift walls, but they’re only about shoulder high.

First-grade teacher Danielle Rinard says it’s a real disruption.

"We have more and more kids who have special needs, and it’s just tough for them to tune out."

Doing the math
Here’s the rest of the tab for not passing levies. Two school buildings closed, freezes in teacher pay, 90 positions eliminated and cuts in high school busing. It’s belt tightening to the point of punching more holes in the belt. And that’s just fine with a large number of Washington County residents. Better that, they say, than higher property taxes.

Karen Shaner and Glenn Newman run a gallery that sells everything from Thomas Kinkaid paintings to Ohio State Buckeyes gear. The couple, born and raised in Washington County, say local teachers are overpaid.

“Our average salaries are so low for the private sector," says Shaner. "And(voters) see that they’re paying a lot of money to the teachers who have no more education, no more responsibility than they have.”

The median per capita income in Washington County is about $23,400. The median teacher salary at Warren Local is double that - more than $56,000. Keep in mind, only 15 percent of people in Washington County have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Shared sacrifice
Shaner and Newman say teachers should make sacrifices. And they should stop asking for a levy to build a new school.

“People would be willing to pay to fix the buildings you have," says Shaner. "But they’re not going to pay to build a new building that is not going to improve anybody’s education.”

And they say, Superintendent Gibbs and his staff aren’t very popular.

Newman dismisses them as “elitist bureaucrats.”

Shaner says the sour relationship ultimately comes down to one thing “The trust is broken.”

“It goes back to the consolidation, or very soon thereafter that the trust was broken.”

Losing a local tie
Back in the late 1960s, Ohio and many other states opted to combine small school districts to make more sizeable ones like Warren Local. But a lot of people lost their schools.

“There was a lot of that hometown pride and it really persists in many ways even today,” says Newman.

Shaner and Newman were among the first to graduate from the newly consolidated district.

“After we got there, I think we felt like we had gone from a nice school to a barn," remembers Shaner. "It was kind of hayseed. What did they call it? The cow palace.”

This is an argument Warren Local first-grade teacher Julie Vandyk has heard many times before.

"People hold grudges," she says, "for something that happened 60 years ago. And they’re going to bring it until the end."
It's "a hard thing to swallow for me because I think we need to let go of the past and look towards the future.

(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

The people in this area are voting down funds for our schools for completely idiotic reasons. There is no end in sight and I will be leaving this area very soon so that I can place my children into a school and community that appreciates the value of a quality education - and you know what? I'll be paying 5-6x what I pay in property taxes now and I am not unhappy about that in any way, shape, or form. Yes, it's more money and it's not something that will go unnoticed in our budget, but it's WORTH IT! The schools in the area we are moving to (and many like it) provide a wonderful quality of education to our youth, which in turn feeds our local economy and mentality to the benefit of everyone. To deny the children of your community a proper education because you're hung up on an idiotic grudge, or an increase in already extremely low property taxes, is sad at best. In my opinion, that lack of understanding and support for our youth and community shows the "quality" education that you received.

Posted by: A Voter That Actually Gives a $#! (Warren Local) on May 1, 2013 10:05AM
As a graduate from Warren High, and a college student about to embark on a teaching career I highly doubt the teachers at Warren have a median salary of $56,000. These new schools are so that the high school doesnt have an indoor gutter system and the students can learn without distractions. I would love to see Ms. Shaner and Mr. Newman live in a home with indoor gutter system to run the water to a drain to go back outside where it belongs, it would be unheard of. I think those skeptics need to take a look at the schools that they want to just patch together. When your car starts costing you more than its worth you buy a different car. Why poor money in to a very old building that needs a lot of work, instead lets put the money into a new school that can grow with the community. I loved my time in Warren Local Schools and I would love to teach for the school district, even with the economic hardships. The teachers love their students and care about each and every one of them, they aren't giving up even when the community doesn't support them. The students are teaching our future doctor, nurses, dentists, teachers, etc.. why make them suffer so you can put more money in your pocket?!? If you think the schools do not need repairs, stop by on a rainy day and take a tour, you will think twice!

Posted by: Beth (Washington County,Ohio) on May 1, 2013 9:05AM
Here is the link the teachers salary's for all those doubters out there. I found this with a simple google search. You can too.

One thing that is not discussed here is the failure of busing cut. It didn't save nearly as much as claimed and may end up costing money. It is perceived in the community as a punishment and bargaining chip for passing a levy for new buildings. The administration are willfully ignoring the voice of the people in the community. I believe that change in guard is needed, there is no trust in Gibbs.

I saw the schools fall apart in front of me in a matter of years not decades. Proper maintenance was not done and problems were "fixed" in very weird ways. Indoor downspouts and gutters in the halls when a 5 gallon bucket of asphalt would have fixed a roof leak cheaper and properly.

There are people holding grudges for the closing of schools. There were minimal savings and immediate raises for the staff seen after the closings. This is the cause for distrust. When any savings are lining the pockets of administrators and inflating already high teacher salaries, the community wants to know that their sacrifices are not in vain. The teachers are great, mostly, but the cost of living is not the same out here in the country as the city. The area doesn't warrant the large salaries and pensions the teachers are receiving.

I don't live in the area anymore however, I would have voted for the levies because I know that in the future the area will benefit. However, treating the NO voters like ignorant hicks is not the way to win over the community. You must know your adversaries if you ever wish to win their favor. Yes voters need to be aware of these concerns.

Busing needs to be restored. Salary freezes need to be implemented for teachers staff members making more than the average median salary for the area. We can't trust their word so it must be written into contracts. Maybe then they can ask the community to open their dusty wallets.

Posted by: Troy (Coolville) on April 30, 2013 11:04AM
As a very recent graduate of Warren High school and a proud local of Washington county all I have to say is that I am disappointed in the "voters" of warren school district. Where in our lifetimes did we focus purely on ourselves and stop caring about the community? The "voters" are mad at the school for running out of money? They never had it because of failed levies and lack of community involvement. People this education system educates the future of America and you brush it off like some unimportant Government money sinkhole. Words can not express the disappointment in how our values and morals as a community has been torn down to this point.

Posted by: Nathan (Athens) on April 30, 2013 9:04AM
To say that the teachers have no more education or responsibility than others in Washington County is ridiculous. Teachers are required to have a Bachelors degree, must complete additional coursework continually, and many have Masters degrees. As for responsibility, teachers are responsible for hundreds of children for eight hours a day.

It would have been nice to have heard from someone who isn't an elitist gallery owner or someone who was in favor of a levy.

Disgusting and disappointing.

Posted by: Aundjatlast (Philadelphia) on April 30, 2013 8:04AM
Please look into the state funding model. The state has set it up so that communities end up fighting amongst ourselves instead of fighting the unfair system that it has created. This article could really use some more perspective.

Posted by: Megan (Cincinnati) on April 30, 2013 8:04AM
I to graduated from Warren and have heard those numbers on all the salaries in the warren school district. I do not know where to look to find out if it is true or...Those numbers sound like what a teacher in a school like Columbus or Cleveland might get for hazard pay!!?? Not in our schools and if they are wow .. But in response to the levies, I can not afford to pay anymore taxes so I do not complain about the condition of the school or the cuts,, The busing has but a crimp on our money as we have one in high school..

Posted by: Lowe (little hocking) on April 30, 2013 7:04AM
Where did you get your Washington County median per capita income figures? The census fact finder shows that from 2009-2011 the household median income is $43k for ALL households. Only 19-25 yo households show less than 30,000. The median income for most households runs at $52k. Teachers surely are not the elite bureaucrats the article makes them seem.

Posted by: William (Nebraska) on April 30, 2013 6:04AM
These 2 are morons and all should ban their store The Gallery on front street. Why should the teachers pay for improvements to the school?? And they are overpaid? Yea right. The only decent teachers they have are the ones that stay for family reasons. The rest move to other areas where they can make a decent living. That is why there are not many decent teachers at Warren. I guess I value our kids future unlike these two or the majority of the rest of the county.

Posted by: Sense (Ohio) on April 30, 2013 3:04AM
I would really love to know where you got the figure that Warren Local School teachers make more than $56,000(median) a year? As a graduate of this exact school, I have a hard time believing that number.

Posted by: Jayne (Washington Co, Ohio) on April 30, 2013 1:04AM
My daughter attends Warren Local Schools. The fact that we can't pass these levies is disgusting. Oh and remind me not to patronize Ms. Shaner and Mr. Newman's store. I think they make too much money.

Posted by: shocking (Marietta) on April 30, 2013 1:04AM
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