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Educational center facing cuts

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- The Lawrence County Educational Service Center is facing cuts of $435,291 starting July 1 unless changes are made in Gov. Kasich's proposed budget. Meanwhile, several local superintendents say the changes will end up costing their districts more unless changes are made in the budget proposal.

"Those cuts would be devastating," Jim Payne, superintendent of the Lawrence County Education Service Center, said earlier this week. "We've already been cut 25 percent in the past two years. We've had to reduce hours and had some layoffs. I think they're trying to run the small education service centers out of business.

"We provide services to local districts who can't afford it individually," Payne said. "It's a way to have education dollars go farther. We're the economy of scale. The education service centers can provide services cheaper than districts pay individually."

The county Education Service Center provides a variety of shared services such as speech and physical therapists, school nurses and curriculum and attendance supervision. Other services include attendance officers, psychologists, an alternative school director and teacher and shared purchasing arrangements that save the seven public school districts in Lawrence County money, Payne said. The center also provides academic content standards support, data analysis, teacher training and ongoing professional development, among other services, he said.

He met with State Reps. Ryan Smith and Terry Johnson earlier this month and a compromise could be forthcoming. State representatives are making decisions on the budget in March and April. "There's definitely room for negotiation," said Smith, R-Gallipolis. "The rural districts are really coming out on the short end. There is room for hope.

"It's a work in progress," Smith said of budget negotiations. "I feel better about it than I did three weeks ago. The educational service centers have been doing shared services for years."

Smith said he could introduce amendments to help education service centers and k-12 funding in the coming weeks.

That would be fine, said South Point Superintendent Ken Cook.

"(The Education Service Centers) do a real good job," Cook said. "I would prefer they not cut education service centers. The governor is pushing shared services. That's what we do here. If they're cut, it will cost the local districts more. We share the costs for a psychologist now. So we could have to hire one or contract out services. Either way, it would cost us more. That's just one example."

"We need the education service centers now more than ever before," said Dawson-Bryant Superintendent Dennis DeCamp.

The education service center could be cut another $34,000 the following year if no changes are made. About $40,000 for a gifted coordinator also could be lost along with $262,250 for supervisory services, Payne said.

"The seven districts in Lawrence County are essentially being flat-funded," Payne said. "If you're flat-funded, you're essentially losing ground because costs like insurance, heating and salaries will continue to grow. We've held our costs down so everyone can benefit."

The centers were formed in 1914 to serve all 88 Ohio counties. There are currently 55 of 88 counties using those services. The centers currently are paid $6.50 per pupil for such services as curriculum, gifted supervision and bus driver training. Kasich is proposing giving that money to local districts.

The proposed per pupil costs wouldn't cover the costs of what the local districts would be tasked to do, DeCamp said.