Monday, October 25, 2004
Quality counts for levy leader
Renewal chief worked for schools
By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer
Kent Cashell can afford to send his kids to the most expensive private schools in Cincinnati, but he doesn't.
Instead, the investment banker sends his two school-age children to Fairview German Language School, a public school where nearly a third of the students live in poverty.
Cashell, who was business manager for the school district before moving to the private sector two years ago, was tapped to run the levy renewal campaign on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Campaign organizers say he's an asset because he's an ardent supporter of the public school system, he knows the district's finances, and he's known in many circles.
His familiarity with everything from the boardroom to the lunchroom is critical for this election, organizers say, because some traditional supporters such as the Cincinnati Business Committee and two school board members are withholding support for the five-year renewal that would raise $65 million a year.
An owner of a $100,000 market value home pays $299 a year for the levy.
"(Cashell) is very much a voice for the community, a voice for parents and a voice of business," said Carolyn Turner, executive director of Cincinnati Parents for Public Schools, an advocacy group for the school system. "He can relate to everyone because he puts on different hats."
Cashell, 39, is a transplant from Delaware, who lives in College Hill with his wife, Laurel, and three children.
Former Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Steven Adamowski recruited Cashell from the Delaware Department of Education, where they both worked. As the district's business manager, Cashell helped plan its $1 billion school construction project and spent months listening to residents' concerns about the project at community meetings across the city.
Cashell left after three years for a job at Seasongood and Mayer, a downtown bond-underwriting firm that contracts with the district.
Though his expertise in business and school finance comes in handy, his best asset is his experience as a district parent, said Jan Leslie, one of the levy campaign organizers.
Cashell almost gushes about the quality of education at Fairview, where his two girls, 9-year-old Emily and 6-year-old Melanie, are learning German.
Fairview, a magnet school in Clifton Heights, is one of the highest-performing schools in the struggling district. About 80 percent of the school's fourth-graders passed state reading and math tests last year.
"But there are other schools that are great, too," Cashell said. "Walnut Hills can stand up to any high school in the country."
Organizers downplay the loss of campaign funding from the business committee, which historically funds about 75 percent of the district's levy campaigns. People like Leslie and Turner say they need people like Cashell, who can reach the broadest audience.
Whether talking with parents and business associates or stumping at campaign rallies, he stresses the district's improvement in each of the 18 areas measured on the state report card. He also notes that the renewal levy won't raise residents' taxes. That's because the amount that homeowners pay in voted school taxes in Ohio can't increase without voter approval.
A loss "would unquestionably impact the base education services in every classroom," Cashell said.
But opponents such as board member Rick Williams say the district's gains will continue to be minimal unless it changes the way it operates. Board member Melanie Bates notes that the district is still labeled in academic watch, the second lowest of five state rankings for student achievement.
They, too, make speeches at community council meetings and before business groups. Bates and Williams support a plan that includes paying teachers based on how their students achieve, giving the superintendent more authority to implement strategies to raise student achievement and limiting micromanagement from the school board.
And after the district overspent its 2003-04 budget by nearly $22 million, the business committee says the district needs to get its finances in order before asking taxpayers to renew a levy.
"The district will continue a negative spiral unless there is a message from the community to do things differently," Williams said. In this case, that means withholding support for the district's money.
Cashell doesn't get the argument. A loss means the district would have to cut $32.5 million from the 2005-06 school budgets and $65 million a year after that, he said. For a father in the district and a man who knows the district's finances, Cashell said that's hard to fathom.
"From what I can see, the district is making academic progress," he said. "A big reason for supporting this levy is to give the district an opportunity to make strides."
To get involved
If you want to get involved in the levy campaign or want more information about the levy from campaign supporters, call (513) 351-0915 or go to