Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Cincinnati schools seek 6-mill levy

Goal is $35.8M a year

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More financial resources for schools, a focus on early literacy and an accountability plan that closes low-achieving schools are the reasons why Cincinnati's school chief thinks voters will support a 6-mill levy.

        Voters will decide in November on the levy, which would generate $35.8 million a year. The levy amount was unanimously approved by the seven school board members Monday.

        “Our results are going up, and we are making necessary changes,” Superintendent Steven Adamowski said in an interview. “I hope that we are increasingly seen as a district that is worth supporting.”

        When voters go to the polls, it will be the second time in nine months they will consider paying new taxes to improve and maintain the city's 75 schools.

        If the levy passes, it would mean $184 in new taxes a year on a $100,000 home. The levy is designed to keep the district in the black for at least four years.

        “I believe we have an obligation to tell the public how much money we need to run our public schools,” board member Lynn Marmer said.

        The levy would break down this way:

        • 2 mills, or $11.94 million, to keep pace with an estimated inflation rate of 3.3 percent, as well as textbook and staffing costs.

        • 2 mills, or $11.94 million, for class-size reduction, to allow for classes in grades K-3 to be at a maximum of between 17 to 19 students per teacher.

        • 1 mill, or $5.97 million, for building maintenance.

        • 1 mill, or $5.97 million, for increased spending in neighborhood schools.

        Board member Harriet Russell, who last week said she would not support a levy greater than 5 mills, explained her change of heart. She had argued the district must be accountable for the schools' performance.

        “I know more now. The school ratings are out, and we have schools showing a lot of improvement,” Ms. Russell said. “For us to redesign more schools, we need more money, because it will not happen without that investment.”

        Rick Beck, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president, said the 6-mill levy is something teachers can feel good about.

        “This means we can focus on the high schools and on the early literacy,” he said. “And it does give a boost to the neighborhood (school) programs.”

        The school district needs to ask for levies on a periodic basis because 60 percent of revenues come from property taxes, said Michael Geoghegan, the district's treasurer.

        With any approved levy, the amount collected does not increase over time. If passed, the 6-mill levy would always collect $35.8 million a year. As property values rise, the actual millage would be adjusted downward so the levy would not bring in more than the amount voters originally approved.

        Dr. Adamowski had recommended a 6.4-mill levy so the district could devote 1.4 mills to improving neighborhood schools. He said he is pleased with a 6-mill levy because it still allows nearly $6 million for neighborhood schools.

        “We need to give neighborhood schools the same tools the magnet schools have to get that higher achievement,” he said.

        Voters rejected the district's last two attempts to get new tax revenue.

        In March, voters rejected a 6.5-mill tax increase that would have raised $38.8 million annually.

        At the same time, they approved a 5-year, 10.9-mill levy that renewed two existing levies and will provide $65.1 million annually.

        Voters in November defeated a $24 million, 4.5-mill levy. Most of the November levy was a tax increase.

        Initial public reaction to the levy amount was split among people who attended Monday's meeting.

        Tom Brinkman, with the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, said a levy amount above the rate of inflation is excessive.

        “If you could stay within the rate of inflation, you could help heal this community and stop driving a wedge between the community and its public schools,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        Brewster Rhoades, with Cincinnatians Active to Support Education, said he wonders why Mr. Brinkman's group did not lobby against levies above 7 mills put on the ballot in suburban school districts like Three Rivers and Madeira.

        Ty Stuckey, a Bond Hill father of two Walnut Hills High students, said he does not understand the levy opposition.

        “It puzzles me,” Mr. Stuckey said. “Does anyone want to support the inner-city students?”


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