Tuesday, February 09, 1999

Schools retreat, won't try May levy

Budget will be cut $20 million

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marie Irish-Keaney of Mount Washington speaks out against a tax increase.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        One month after proposing a tax increase of up to $92 million, Cincinnati Public Schools leaders made an about-face Monday night, abandoning plans to put a levy on the May ballot and agreeing instead to cut $20 million from their budget.

        Before the unanimous vote, officials lashed out at state lawmakers for not sharing a bigger burden of schools' bills and pledged to form a coalition of community leaders to lobby the state for more funding.

        They also vowed to pressure Ohio lawmakers to repeal House Bill 920, the 1973 “rollback” law that allows schools no inflationary increase as property valuation rises.

        “School revenues are flat. They do not increase over time with inflation. Yet the cost of running the schools, like any business, increases over time,” said Virginia Griffin, coordinator of the board's equitable resources planning and development task force.

        Board members also chastised city officials for their “liberal” approvals of tax abatements, which drain the district of real-estate taxes.

        They acknowledged that they may seek a tax increase in November, but it likely will be significantly smaller than first proposed.

        The decision came after an hour of impassioned pleas from residents, most urging no increase and some endorsing new money for building and program improvements.

        “Any increase is unacceptable with failing test scores and a dropout rate of over 50 percent,” said Marie Irish-Keaney of Mount Washington. “It's unacceptable in May and it's unacceptable in November.”

        Beth Sullebarger, executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association, disagreed: “It's appalling that small-minded, anti-tax factions may rule the day. We need money to fix buildings, and the longer we wait, the more it will cost to fix them.”

        Superintendent Steven Adamowski recommended that the district:

        Reduce salary spending. Salaries now account for 83 percent of the district's budget. They should represent 75 percent, he said.

        Cut $10 million from the district's $80 million central office/central services budget. This would require significant cuts in administrative positions.

        Cut $10 million from the $260 million student-based budget. That would reduce base per-pupil spending from $4,012 to $3,830.

        If voters approve a tax hike in November, the cuts would be restored.

        The superintendent also proposed establishing a Cincinnati Public Schools Foundation, under which the district would invest about $3 million annually and seek matching investments from the business community and district employees.

        The district also should partner with the city and county to work toward economic development, looking to increases in earning taxes to replace decreases in abated property tax es, Mr. Adamowski said.

        Board members directed the superintendent to:

        Prepare a balanced budget for 1999-2000 with $20 million in cuts. The board could vote on those proposed cuts as soon as March 15.

        Accelerate plans to boost student achievement by closing and redesigning the worst schools as soon as possible. At least two must be done by the start of the fall term. And, redesign neighborhood high schools.

        Secure an unconditional agreement for the $100 million city leaders pledged for building repairs.

        Correct fire-safety and building-code violations. Board members agreed Monday to spend $7.6 million to fix the remaining violations identified in city firefighters' 1996 inspection. Half the money will come from matching state funds, $800,000 from district sources and the rest from funds that city and Hamilton County leaders have pledged for repairs.

        Prioritize the district's $697 million facilities master plan and begin work this year. The board plans to borrow money this summer against the city and county's $200 million pledge to start repairs.


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