Thursday, August 12, 1999

City schools seek $24 million

Levy's too little, some critics say

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Board of Education agreed Wednesday to seek a $24 million tax approval this November, despite some critics' worries that the amount won't be enough to maintain current services.

        The board voted 6-O in favor of Superintendent Steven Adamowski's recommendation to seek the 4.5-mill levy. Board member Sally Warner was absent.

        The recommendation was much lower than tax options of up to $92 million the board debated last January, when district leaders hoped to seek a tax increase in May. When citizens protested, administrators agreed to postpone going to voters until November, opting instead for $20 million in budget cuts.

        It's also lower than the 6-mill ($32.4 million) increase Mr. Adamowski suggested in March.

        Board members plan to confirm the levy amount with a second vote Monday, after auditors review it.

        About $21.3 million would cover inflationary increases and restore a $10 million cut in per-pupil spending. Another $10 million cut from administrative services will not be restored.

        The increase would boost the tax bill for a $75,000 house by $92.

        Another $2.7 million represents a tax to fund building improvements that would have had to be renewed.

        The amount assumes inflation of 2.85 percent a year, while enrollment drops by about 500 students a year.

        But Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney questioned administrators' projections. He predicted the district will have to make more deep cuts within three years to cover the mounting debt an insufficient levy will cause.

        “I don't see any way possi ble that 4.5 mills does what your projection says it can do,” Mr. Mooney said at Wednesday's school board meeting at district headquarters in Corryville.

        “If you don't think you can pass more than 4.5 mills, say so. But don't pretend to the public that you're going to restore the cuts and keep up with inflation when you're not.”

        Ron Felder, who has campaigned for past levies as a member of Cincinnatians Active to Support Education, complained that the increase doesn't include money to repair buildings.

        “That is too low. I don't want to go for so small an amount that we can't make a difference,” Mr. Felder said. “I want to see some paint-splashing, some mixing of some cement. A look at the district's facilities says, "We don't care about our kids.'”

        Barry Cholak, a North Fairmount resident and former school board candidate, agreed: “We need money to get more teachers. We need smaller class sizes so kids can get the attention they need. We need more money than 4.5 mills.”

        Mr. Adamowski defended the amount as key to the district's credi bility.

        “We have been very vulnerable to criticism in terms of: How can our budget be going up each year while our enrollment is going down?” Mr. Adamowski said.

        The district's budget has grown by about 5 percent a year in recent years, while enrollment has dropped by several hundred students a year. The superintendent's proposal would limit budget increases to 1.7 percent a year.

        Administrators hope to limit teachers' pay raises to 2 percent a year; the last negotiated raise was 3 percent annually, Mr. Adamowski said.

        Raising taxes too much would risk the district's competitive edge, said Lynn Marmer, who heads the school board's equitable resources task force. CPS now ranks 14th among Hamilton County districts in total school millage.

        “We believe we can do what we say we're going to do. We believe this will work,” Ms. Marmer said.

        If the levy fails, parents and students can expect at least another $20 million in cuts, affecting everything from building maintenance to textbooks and tutoring, district Treasurer Richard Gardner said.

        Building improvements remain a priority, officials stressed.

        The district will spend about $23 million this year on “life-safety” needs, Mr. Gardner said. The district also will finish paying off a state loan, taken to avoid bankruptcy in 1991, in 2002. It will then spend that money — $10 million annually — to fix facilities, Mr. Gardner added.


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