By Florence Newell
On Nov. 2, the voters of the Cincinnati Public School District will vote on Issue 32, the renewal of a $65.2 million levy first passed in 1980 and renewed four times by voters. This is a renewal that will not raise taxes but, if passed, will continue $65 million of critical annual educational funding for the next five years.
Many respected community organizations have endorsed Issue 32, recognizing the importance of this renewal to continuing strong academic progress in our schools.
Regrettably, the Cincinnati Business Committee is not among them. Even more troubling, the rationale offered by CBC Chairman Phillip Cox in his Oct. 17 Your Voice column is based on inaccurate or misleading information.
Yes, the district was $21 million over budget for 2004-05, but the superintendent, the treasurer and the board can account for every single dollar spent, as is required by state law and verified by state auditors. What were those over-budget costs? Increased payments to local charter schools, increased transportation costs for charter students, and larger payments than anticipated for out-of-district tuition, required to educate students sent out of our district.
We are committed to getting costs under control and "right-sizing" the district to account for enrollment declines. We anticipate drastically reducing the 2005-06 budget, which will either delay the need for or reduce the size of a new operating levy. However, we must do this in a responsible manner. Slashing an additional $65 million per year on top these reductions is neither feasible nor responsible nor sound business practice.
Mr. Cox appears to suggest that we should simply wait for the independent finance task force that Superintendent Alton Frailey requested be formed to assist us with efficiency and long-term financial planning. We support that task force and look forward to its recommendations. However, the focus of those recommendations will be longer term; its chairman, Dr. Joseph Steger, has informed the superintendent to expect a report in 8-12 months.
Meanwhile, our district must begin work on for the 2005-06 budget in December. Without the renewal, budget cuts would be immediate, deep and demoralizing. With the renewal, reductions could be planned carefully, minimizing disruptions to learning.
Given the CBS's historic support of our schools, it is disappointing that Mr. Cox ignores the strong academic gains achieved by Mr. Frailey, his staff and teachers, especially over the past year. Our community cannot afford to jeopardize such progress. I urge all district voters to join Mr. Failey, teachers, parents, community leaders and board members in renewing Issue 32.
Florence Newell is president of the Cincinnati Board of Education.
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