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Akron Voters Will Decide City Sewer-Lease Plan for Scholarships

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic has spent the last decade trying to figure out how to fund a scholarship plan for Akron residents. He supports Issue 8, a plan that would lease the city sewer system for money to send graduates from the Akron area to college. At the announcement of the plan he was emphatic about the need to build an educated work force.

Plusquellic: "We have to prepare students today for the jobs of tomorrow. If our kids are going to compete, if our jobs are going to be successful, we have to let people know it doesn't end at the 12th grade."

However, not everyone is on board. Jack Sobati represents AFSCME, the local union representing about 100 sewer workers. He also leads Save our Sewers, a group that submitted more than 5,000 signatures to get Issue 9 on the ballot. That issue would require the mayor to go to voters each time he wanted to lease a public service to a private company. Sombati initially worried that a private company would fire city sewer workers, and he's not satisfied with a recently passed city ordinance that give sewer workers jobs in other departments. He says, the city's plan has other flaws

SOMATI:" The children who may be lucky enough to get money from the fund have to pay it back or work or live in the city for 30 years. That certainly isn't a scholarship, that's a scheme."

The mayor's plan, Issue 8, is what is called "a last dollar scholarship." It provides money only after other loans and grants are exhausted. The mayor could lease Akron's sewer system for up to 99 years. The ballot language calls for a cap on rate increases, but does not specify an amount. It covers students who attend Akron public schools and a select number of suburban and parochial schools. Those attending for-profit charter schools are not eligible, and the money must be used to pay for Akron college and trade schools.

Comparable scholarship programs in Michigan and Pennsylvania are funded by private donations. Plusquellic says Akron will need to generate about $90 million to pay off outstanding bonds before a $200 million endowment can be created. He hopes some of that money will come from the private sector.