Officials: Open enrollment not benefiting Palestine

EAST PALESTINE — The local school district may not be losing as much local money as other districts, like Columbiana, through school choice, but it is still losing money.

In response to a recent presentation by Columbiana Superintendent Don Mook, East Palestine Superintendent Chris Neifer wants the public to know that open enrollment is not benefiting his district.

The district’s financial forecasts prepared by Treasurer Rick Ellis each year show the district losing more than $1 million every year through open enrollment, and this has been the case for the last several years.

Mook said the East Palestine district is one of five public school districts in the county that have a net loss in open enrollment, meaning they are losing more money through students leaving than they are taking in through other districts.

According to information provided by Mook, the East Palestine district received $201,575 from the roughly 33 students that attended its schools from outside districts compared to the $1.19 million it lost to nearly 199 students going elsewhere during fiscal year 2018.

Mook’s figures were based on the School Finance Payment Report (SFPR) and the Cupp Report through the Ohio Department of Education.

Mook said one of the factors that comes into the funding piece is the opportunity grant, which is a base funding amount decided by the Ohio General Assembly.

Each district multiplies the base funding amount by the state share index to determine per pupil funds that the district will receive from the state as part of the state formula, he said.

He went on to say that the state share index is created by the state as an equalizing effect in direct proportion to the district’s ability to raise local revenues.

Columbiana, Beaver Local and Salem are all funded below the opportunity grant, and as a result, are losing local money through open enrollment while the remaining districts are losing state money, he explained.

“Districts that are funded below the opportunity grant, they trade state dollars and local dollars to make up the difference,” he said.

The remaining districts, like East Palestine, are funded above the opportunity grant, which was set at $6,010 per student for 2018. This is the amount of money that must follow a student when they leave a district to attend elsewhere.

Mook explained that because East Palestine is funded above the grant, the money it loses through open enrollment is state money, not local revenue.

For districts like Columbiana, that are funded below the opportunity grant, that means local revenue is put toward making up the difference when a student leaves.

East Palestine’s state funding for 2018 was $1,973 above the opportunity grant, according to the Cupp report.

This means that for the 199 students that left the East Palestine district, the district still retained $393,000 in state funding that year, since the state funding above the opportunity grant did not go with them when they transferred out.

To come to that conclusion, Mook took the number of students and multiplied it by the amount East Palestine receives above the opportunity grant.

The fact remains, however, that East Palestine is still seeing a negative financial impact through open enrollment.