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Cleveland Voters Asked to Pass Gigantic School Levy

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Friday, July 20, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon joined forces to pass the Cleveland Plan to Transform Schools.

The Cleveland school district is asking voters to approve a 15-mill levy this November. That would come out to an increase of nearly $300 annually for Cleveland home owners assessed at the district average of about $64,000, adding a total of $77 million each year to the district's $670 million operating budget. That would tip the district's overall budget past the $1 billion mark.

The levy would last four years, after which it will not automatically renew. Jackson says the four-year timeline is to prove to voters that their plan will work without immediately asking for more money.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon say they need the extra funding to pay for their Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor John Kasich this summer.

The 15-mill levy would mean a 50 percent increase in the school taxes Clevelanders are currently paying. It's a much higher amount than most people were expecting.

WCPN reports some people estimate the marketing campaign needed to pass a levy this big could rack up a $1 million bill all on its own. Jackson says he'll turn to support from the business community and donors to fund the campaign. His plan of attack? Mayor Jackson told WKSU "the truth" will convince voters to get on board with his Cleveland schools plan.

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But some city council members are already predicting the levy's downfall. They say Cleveland residents are already squeezed financially, and in this recession a levy this size is too much to ask for.

Councilman Mike Polensek told the Plain Dealer:

"I've got a lady with no utilities in her house – no water, no gas, no electric – and we're going to ask her to pay another 15 mills?" Polensek asked. "The calls I'm getting from people aren't about being anti-education or anti-kids. They're stretched. They're having a hard time paying their bills."

At least the Cleveland Teachers Union appears to be on board, pledging to go door to door to sell this levy.

The Cleveland school district has not passed an operating levy since 1996, when it passed a 13.5 mill levy.

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