151 Ballot Issues to Fund Local School Districts in Ohio
by Michelle Faust
Throughout Ohio, there are 151 levies, bonds and income tax measures on the November ballot intended to benefit local school districts. About half of these are renewals, but the remainder include requests for new or additional funds for these districts.
Forty-three of the districts in the state are requesting funding to cover their current operating expenses. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is one of those requesting a renewal of a levy to cover its current costs of doing business.
Last week, the Plain Dealer’s editorial board endorsed the renewal of a 15-mil levy for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. In his State of the Schools address last month, district CEO Eric Gordon made the case for the levy, linking it to successes that he reports from The Cleveland Plan.
“We also have the responsibility to convince voters that their support of a 15-mil tax levy for four years would enable us to prove that the Cleveland plan was much more than the reform plans of the past, that indeed the Cleveland plan was the right plan, right now,” Gordon said in his State of the Schools address.
Gordon asked voters to “stay the course” by continuing to fund the changes related to the 2012 plan. CMSD has an uphill battle, in part because the Cleveland Transformation Alliance that oversees the plan released a report recognizing the district’s improvements, but also saying the recovery isn’t fast enough. Furthermore, the controversial state report cards showed losses for the majority of Ohio’s schools, but CMSD was the only district to receive all Fs. Add to that, the district and its teachers have returned to the bargaining table after the union rejected a tentative contract last month.
About 70 districts will use a portion of the levy funds for school improvements or new construction. Columbus City Schools represents a district in this position. Schools in Columbus waited to make capital and equipment repairs, because of budget constraints during the recession.
“I know the district made difficult decisions years ago. Probably in 2007 and 2008 everybody made different decisions because of the economy then,” said Columbus Public Schools Superintendent Dan Good. “And as a result there's a considerable amount of deferred maintenance in our district, probably over $200 million dollars’ worth of deferred maintenance: so, roofs that need to be replaced, asphalt that needs to be poured, chillers that broken down in schools.”
If approved by voters, the combination levy/bond issue for Columbus Schools will go toward operating expenses, too. The district wants to add 324.5 positions for both teachers and support staff.
“So, there is an increase in the early childhood. There’s an increase in safety services, not just physical but social-emotional. So, there's an increase in social workers and licensed school nurses. We break down the ratio of teachers to students by adding instructional assistance in our poorest performing schools,” says Good.
Avoiding an Operating Deficit
There are 35 districts that list the purpose of their ballot issues as raising money for “emergency requirements” or to “avoid an operating deficit.” Parma City Schools is one of the districts in a tough situation.
The Ohio Department of Education has Parma under ‘fiscal caution’ status—the state is overseeing the district because it is deemed to be on its way to fiscal insolvency. Parma’s schools are facing a deficit of $15 million dollars over this year and next. The district is looking at major layoffs and school closures amid loud community protest. Even if the levy does pass, it will not take care of all of the district’s debt.
Local voters will decide on November 8th whether they will fund one (or more) of the 151 ballot issues in Ohio that address school funding. Several district leaders in discussing the issues say it points to a need for a different funding model for the state’s public schools.
“That would be my wish: for all of the schools to be successful with their levies, and I think it will be a strong statement how our communities support public education and realize that public education need those extra dollars to get by,” says Talisa Dixon, Superintendent of Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District.
Superintendent Dixon says part of the challenge is that raising levies, bonds, and income taxes is not always an option for every community, but schools need for funding remains.