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What You Need to Know About the Columbus School Levy

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Friday, October 25, 2013 at 9:00 AM

From our friends at WOSU, here are the key things you need to know about the Columbus school levy.

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Images_of_Money / Flickr

The Columbus school district is asking voters to approve a 24 percent increase in school taxes.

Columbus -- Ohio's largest school district -- has a 9-mill levy request on the November ballot that would cost homeowners an additional $315 in taxes per $100,000 in property value.

And, for the first time in Columbus, the levy would share local property tax dollars with charter schools.

From our friends at WOSU, here are the key things you need to know about this particular school levy: 

1. The biggest chunk of levy proceeds would pay for salaries, school supplies and other operating expenses. 

Levy proceeds would also go towards construction and renovation projects, the creation of new schools similar to the district's existing higher-performing schools, pre-school services and technology purchases.

But Columbus levy campaign leaders have not framed their appeal to voters as the typical Ohio school levy threat-based campaign: "Pass this levy or we'll have to lay off teachers, cut sports/art/foreign languages or eliminate more busing."

Instead, they say Columbus needs the levy money in order to do new and more things:

School city leaders are not threatening to eliminate bussing. They’re not saying sports will be cut or band rooms will go silent if the levy fails. They say they need the levy to fix the failing district.

Columbus actually faces a $51.1 million surplus for next year, even taking planned spending increases into account, The Columbus Dispatch reports. But without the levy proceeds or significant cuts, district officials project large budget deficits in three years.

2. School district leaders have big plans for transforming Columbus schools, but few plans for measuring results.

District leaders say the levy proceeds will be used to help reach a variety of goals, including ensuring every high school graduate is ready to go to work, to college or join the military; hiring and retaining better teachers; improving Columbus schools' grades on state report cards; and allowing every student to earn college credits, acquire trade credentials or get internships with local businesses.[related_content align="right"]

It's unclear how progress toward these goals will be measured:

No one we talked with could provide a formula or an outline as to how progress will be tallied.

Columbus City School Board president Carol Perkins says the district will provide its own progress reports, but she would not give details.

Measureable progress is supposed to be made each year, bad teachers are to be fired and poor-performing schools are to face “serious and enforceable consequences.” Again, Perkins could not elaborate on what the “consequences” may be.

“Well I can’t answer that as of yet. I don’t know if you’re aware, we have commissioned a standards committee that will be addressing those issues in regards to what the expectations will be moving forward.”

3. If the levy is approved, $8.5 million a year will go to privately run charter schools.

If the levy passes, Columbus will become one of only two districts statewide to share local property tax dollars directly with charter schools. The levy Cleveland voters approved last year allowed local property tax dollars to fund certain Cleveland charter schools.

it took changes in state law to allow both districts to share local money directly with charter schools.

Some people think sending local tax dollars to charter schools is a good thing.

Take Columbus teachers union president Rhonda Johnson, for example:

“What we want our parents to have good options for our students,” Johnson said. “And for me it’s about the students it’s not about whether the student is attending a charter school  or a traditional public schools. We want them all to be great schools.”

But some people, like levy opponent Jonathan Beard, think it's a bad idea:

“That is a policy issue. Should the citizens of Columbus fund locally charters that are already funded at the state level. That’s a great policy question. But it shouldn’t be wrapped up in this 24 percent tax increase. It’s so different that it needs to be separate,” Beard said.

4. Columbus will use part of the levy proceeds to expand pre-K. That doesn't mean providing pre-K for all students.

Interim Columbus Superintendent Dan Good explains:

The levy proposal promises a quality Pre-K experience for all district children by School officials have not disclosed what they mean by “quality experience” and they admit $8.5 million dollars likely is not enough to pay for universal Pre-K classes.

And Interim Superintendent Dan Good says right now there’s not enough room in district buildings.

“Would we be able to educate all four year olds in a pre-kindergarten classroom housed in one of our 114 buildings. The answer is no. We wouldn’t have capacity. But that was never our commitment,” Good said.

5. The levy, if approved, will boost district revenue by about 10 percent a year. District leaders say that additional money is enough to "transform" the Columbus school district.

Columbus City Council president Andrew Ginther explains:

“We felt like we are in such a sensitive place in our history as a community and certainly as a school district with the loss of faith and confidence that the public has in the school district right now. We couldn’t afford to do this a third of the way or two-thirds of the way,” Ginther said.

You can use this calculator to find out just how much the Columbus school levy would cost you.

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