Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Groups won't endorse levy if schools ignore advice

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Members of the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Baptist Ministers Conference urged the Cincinnati Public Schools board on Monday to adopt an education reform plan or risk losing their support for the planned $65 million, five-year tax levy renewal in November.

The two groups are regular supporters of school district levies, drumming up significant support and funding for campaigns.

"The business leadership of this city loves and supports the Cincinnati Public Schools," said Craig Maier, co-chairman of the committee's education task force. "But the time for change has come.

"As much as we love our public schools, we will oppose the tax levy in November unless this school board starts keeping its promises to the people of Cincinnati."

Rev. Calvin Harper of the Baptist Ministers Conference agreed and said he will campaign against the levy unless changes are made.

Their public plea follows demands made last week by two school board members, who say they will actively campaign against the levy unless the district adopts their five-point reform plan.

Melanie Bates and Rick Williams on Monday encouraged their fellow board members to support their plan "to reform the governance of the school district to improve academic achievement and management efficiency," according to a statement.

School district residents with a home valued at $100,000 now pay $300 a year for the levy. Taxes won't increase if the levy passes.

Loss of the levy would mean cuts of $32.5 million from the schools' operating budgets by 2005-06, officials have said.

Bates and Williams' reform plan calls for the district to:

• Pay teachers based on their students' academic performance.

• Give the superintendent authority to hire a team of firms to oversee the district's $1 billion school construction project, and commit to the exact recommendations of the contract diversity and minority inclusion consultant to improve minority inclusion in the district's contracts.

• Reduce the number of board meetings to two per month, and limit board committee meetings.

• Develop a plan that reduces the number of schools to fit the district's declining enrollment.

• Allow the superintendent to participate in the evaluation of the district treasurer to ensure appropriate coordination between financial management and executive decision-making. (The treasurer now reports to the board.)

"Next year our students will have to take a high stakes graduation test to qualify for their diplomas. We do not have time or money to waste - the reforms must start today," Williams said.

Superintendent Alton Frailey would not say if he agreed with their points or whether he supports placing a levy on the November ballot.

"The board and I have yet to have a conversation about the levy," he said. "I think we need to do that."

He said Bates and Williams raised some legitimate points and "we do need to have a conversation about them."


E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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