CHICAGO -- With a bond issue for school improvements in the works, Ohio officials last week appealed a recent court decision that found the state's school funding formula unconstitutional.
In addition, the state asked the state Fifth District Court of Appeals in Canton for a stay of the Perry County Common Pleas Court decision until the appeal process is exhausted, according to David Spialter, business counsel for the Ohio attorney general's office.
The state hopes that the phrasing of the stay will clear up questions about how the decision could affect borrowings by school districts and a planned $68.64 million state bond issue for schools, Spialter said. The $68.64 million of bonds will be issued by the state treasurer's office, with proceeds going to finance school building projects through the state's school building assistance program. The bond issue, which was approved by state lawmakers last year, will be secured by a portion of lottery proceeds.
The state in a memorandum attached to its motion for a stay said that "if no stay upon appeal of these orders and declarations were granted, havoc would be wreaked upon school finance in this state since the legal authority for these programs has been invalidated."
On July 14, the Perry County Common Pleas Court ruled the state's school funding formula unconstitutional and also raised questions about the Ohio Classroom Facilities Act, which allows the state to issue bonds to help distressed school districts fund capital improvements.
In its decision, the court instructed state superintendent Ted Sanders and the state board of education to prepare a report for the legislature outlining proposals to eliminate funding disparities among school districts.
The court decision is confusing, Spialter said, because while it says the state's school funding formula is unconstitutional, it does not spell out whether the state can continue to give schools money.
State officials hope that a stay by the Appeals Court will allow the $68.64 million bond issue and other affected financings to go forward, Spialter said. The Appeals Court could issue the stay of the lower court ruling next week, he said.
William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy, which backed the lawsuit that began the legal battle, said the coalition disagrees with the state's appeal. The Ohio board of education has recommended that the state not contest the ruling, Phillis said.
The coalition, which comprises 500 school districts, threw its support behind the five school districts that filed the suit in January 1992.
Coalition members believe that the state should remedy the school funding problem immediately rather than "dragging out" the legal battle, which will not help any poor school districts, Phillis said.
"It's justice delayed and justice denied," he said.
If the lawsuit is successful, Ohio could end up paying more than $1.2 billion annually to equalize funding among the state's 612 school districts, Phillis said.