Superintendents call core bill 'unfunded mandate'

Ohio's new core curriculum has been met with mixed opinions from area superintendents. The core curriculum, which passed the Ohio House and Senate late Wednesday, increases graduation standards and will affect students currently in 5th grade who will enter high school in 2010. Among the new requirements, students must pass four years of math and English and three years of lab science. The increased standards have been met with support from the education community. The problem is that most schools will have to hire additional teachers and the bill does not allocate funding to cover those expenses. "No one can argue with higher expectations for students, and that's what the core curriculum is," said South Central Superintendent Ben Chaffee. "The problem is it's an unfunded mandate."
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 24, 2010

Ohio's new core curriculum has been met with mixed opinions from area superintendents.

The core curriculum, which passed the Ohio House and Senate late Wednesday, increases graduation standards and will affect students currently in 5th grade who will enter high school in 2010. Among the new requirements, students must pass four years of math and English and three years of lab science.

The increased standards have been met with support from the education community. The problem is that most schools will have to hire additional teachers and the bill does not allocate funding to cover those expenses.

"No one can argue with higher expectations for students, and that's what the core curriculum is," said South Central Superintendent Ben Chaffee. "The problem is it's an unfunded mandate."

Plymouth-Shiloh Superintendent James Metcalfe, who also supports the curriculum "in theory," expressed frustration with the bill.

"We'll have to add additional classes, and that will be added on to an already strapped funding system. They never took into account what we have already in place and what we do.

"They just go through and pass something and we're stuck picking up the pieces," Metcalfe said.

State Rep. Dan White (R-Norwalk) wrapped up his seven-month stint in the Ohio House by voting for the bill. He said the superintendents he spoke to said they supported bill.

White said he too was concerned about the funding, but added the bill increased initial funding and includes an acknowledgment that the state will need to provide $130 million to fully fund the program.

"It's an important piece of legislation. We've got to make sure our high school kids come out with the core education," White said. "The new governor (Ted Strickland) said he plans on putting education funding on the forefront. This provides him an opportunity."

One of the superintendents who told White he supported the bill was Norwalk City Schools' Wayne Babcanec.

"I think it's good educational policy. My one concern is a financial concern. But the educational policy outweighed the financial concerns."

Babcanec said Norwalk would probably have to add a new math teacher by the time the current 5th grade class reaches their junior or senior years in about 2014. With benefits, that new position will cost the district about $50,000 per year.

South Central, which could face a deficit in 2011, would have to add a math and possibly a science teacher to the staff. Chaffee said 75 percent of South Central High School students already take four years of math.

"I feel that we're fairly close with that (standard). As a former high school principal at South Central, I had those high expectations for students," he said. "I stress that, I support core because of its high standards, but I cannot support it because it's an unfunded mandate, throwing this onto local school districts already stretched thin."

Metcalfe said Plymouth-Shiloh already has tightened its belt as much as possible and when asked where he might have to cut to add the additional staff members he replied: "We're not cutting from anywhere. I'm already at the bottom."

Because the bill includes plenty of time for schools to prepare for the curriculum changes, Chaffee said the situation might improve.

"The ultimate hope is that legislature will hear the cry of unfunded mandate and attach some dollars. To me, that's where it needs to happen. I think the more people have conversations with state legislators ... maybe we'll see a change in the next budget."

A new Legislature will certainly bring a new perspective. State Rep. elect-Matt Barrett (D-Amherst) said he would not have voted in favor of the core curriculum.

"We shouldn't pass any unfunded mandate, regardless of what it is," he said. "So, I think, overall, the decision is not bad to improve the requirements but that usually comes at the expense of the arts, extra curriculars, busing ... Schools still have to come up with a plan to pay for this."

Barrett added he was upset with House Speaker John Husted (R- Kettering) because the bill did not have enough support in the education committee to be voted on by the entire lame duck Legislature until Husted replaced five Republican members who did not support the bill.

"Basically what we're saying from Columbus is 'We know best and one size fits all,'" Barrett said.