Sunday, October 31, 2004
On the streets, door to door, citizens rally for school issues
Passing motorists asked to honk horns in show of support
By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer
At Winton Woods High School in Forest Park, some 700 people marched two miles under sunny skies Saturday, shouting "Vote Yes!" and "Save Our Schools!"
In Montgomery, 300 parents, students and teachers from Sycamore Schools gathered for a raucous morning pep rally at the auditorium at Sycamore High School, then dispatched 150 volunteers to busy intersections to ask drivers to honk four times for a school levy.
In clumps of a dozen or more people at eight busy intersections in Colerain Township, teachers, administrators and parents cheered and tried their best to keep signs saying "Invest in Our Community" from flying away in heavy winds.
All around Greater Cincinnati, supporters of public school levies made their final pitches loud and clear - holding rallies, knocking on doors, waving placards at intersections - on the weekend before an election in which 19 local school districts will ask voters to approve levies and bond issues.
In at least one community, levy opposition forces were also out.
"It has to do with more than just schools; it has to do with the quality of life in the community you live in, whether you have children or not," said Holly Coombs, principal at Weigel Elementary School in the Northwest Local School District, a mother of three Northwest students and wife of Colerain High School's football coach, Kerry Coombs. "Just ask any Realtor how important the quality of school districts is when you're selling a house. ... It's America's responsibility to educate its citizenry."
At stake Tuesday are tens of millions of dollars for schools.
Some of the districts have lost one or more levies already this year.
For those districts, levy losses will mean even further cuts in staff, programs, maintenance and transportation.
In Fairfield, after four consecutive levy defeats, the community finds itself bitterly divided in a fifth levy campaign. Anti-levy activists were busy in Fairfield on Saturday, as about 50 opponents passed out thousands of fliers, said Arnold Engel, founder of Citizens for Accountability and Results in Education.
The group, along with another anti-levy organization, Seniors Taking Action for Responsible Spending, plan to rally 1-3 p.m. today at the corner of Morris Road and Dust Commander in Fairfield Township, Engel said.
Winton Woods, making its third attempt to pass a levy this year, has already cut 41 staff members.
"Public education is one of our most priceless gifts we have in America," said Sharon Oakes, a spokeswoman for Winton Woods schools. "I really feel confident this is going to pass thanks to this huge grass-roots effort in the community."
At Sycamore, where voters defeated the most recent levy proposal, about a dozen speakers who support the five year, 5.5-mill levy spoke at the high school before sending volunteers to campaign on busy street corners and knock on doors.
Levy supporters in Sycamore say the community is blessed with one of finest school districts in Hamilton County but with taxes that are in the middle of the road.
"People move to Sycamore because of the excellent schools and the community, and we want to keep it that way," said Connie Lindsay, co-chair of Sycamore's levy committee and a mother of two Sycamore students.
Citizens for Responsible Fiscal Management, which opposes the Sycamore levy, didn't plan any last-minute activities this weekend, said spokesman George Rehfeldt.
"As of a week ago, we rested our case. Now we'll see what the voter says," said Rehfeldt.
In Colerain Township, Coombs and a dozen other school levy supporters had gathered Saturday morning for a couple hours at the corner of Galbraith and Cheviot roads as part of Northwest School District's "Crowd the Corner" drive.
The effort was a final pitch to voters for the proposed 5.75-mill combination levy - 4.75-mill operating levy and 1-mill permanent improvement levy.
It has been seven years since the Northwest Local School District has asked for a new levy, supporters pointed out, which they says proves the district has been a good steward of taxpayer money.
Cathy Augustine, a special education teacher at Struble Elementary School in Colerain Township, stood between a CVS and Walgreen's near a stoplight on Colerain Avenue and held a placard that had torn in the heavy winds.
"A lot of programs have been under-funded by the state, so that means it takes more local money," Augustine said over the din of passing cars.
Liz Oakes contributed to this story. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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