Thursday, November 4, 2004

Academic gains helped levy win, but Cincinnati must cut



By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati schools supporters say their message touting academic gains without increased taxes helped them score a decisive victory for the district's levy renewal Tuesday.

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But even with the renewal, budget cuts are imminent, officials say.

Superintendent Alton Frailey wouldn't specify any planned cuts but said he is reviewing more school consolidations, employee buyout plans and a reduction in central office staff.

"I accept this as a challenge and a higher responsibility that we have to deliver academic results and increase confidence in what we do financially and operationally," Frailey said.

The win means the district will continue to receive $65 million a year in operating expenses generated by the five-year levy - about 14 percent of the district's budget. But Frailey and other officials have said cuts would be necessary to offset declining state revenue and plummeting student enrollment even if the levy passed.

The need for cuts grew apparent in August when the district acknowledged overspending its 2003-04 budget by nearly $22 million. The district treasurer has said $40 million should be shaved from the district's $470 million budget.

Traditional supporters, like the Cincinnati Business Committee and two school board members, had criticized the district's overspending and withheld support for the levy, but it passed easily, 88,895 to 61,347.

The levy drew solid approval in predominantly black neighborhoods that typically support the district, such as the West End and Avondale. Traditional supporters in middle- and upper-middle class neighborhoods like Mount Lookout and Hyde Park, which are mostly white, also gave the district a boost.

But support in wards such as Westwood, a Republican stronghold, helped secure the win. Westwood voted against the last three issues the district placed on the ballot, but 55 percent of the voters in that ward favored the renewal.

Students in an Advanced Placement U.S. history class at Walnut Hills High School said Wednesday that voters put the budget problems aside to support students.

"A lot of the opposition had to do with punishing CPS for being fiscally irresponsible, but I think people didn't want to punish the students," said sophomore Aubrey Madden, 15.

Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said the vote is a testament to the district's improvement in student achievement.

Supporters also say their grass-roots effort and simple message trumped the opposition.

"The biggest key is that this was just a renewal and it didn't raise taxes," said Jan Leslie, a spokeswoman for the levy campaign. "We felt that if we reached people and stayed on our message that they would respond positively."

The owner of a home valued at $100,000 pays $299 a year for the levy.

The campaign distributed 75,000 pieces of campaign literature, printed 7,000 yard signs, mailed 33,000 handwritten postcards and conducted another direct mailing to 59,000 households, Leslie said. The support effort also included targeted phone calls and radio advertising.

Rick Williams, one of the school board members opposing the levy, said he believes the win signaled support for Frailey - not the school board or the way the district operates.

On Wednesday, Williams again criticized the board for micromanaging the district administration. Williams said he would continue to advocate for structural changes in the district, including a pay plan for teachers that is based on student performance instead of seniority.

John Byczkowski contributed. E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com




ELECTION 2004
Bush prevails at polls
George W. Bush's victory speech
Text of John Kerry's concession speech
What to watch for this term

OHIO
Election fuss gave Blackwell a boost
Intense 2008 election forecast for Ohio
All those visits to SW Ohio paid off for the president
Voters look to the future
Ohio seeks vote answers
Academic gains helped levy win, but Cincinnati must cut
Democrats now occupy three posts in county
5 Hamilton County school districts passed tax levies
Lakota cuts; Fairfield restores
Warren vote count was slow, others OK
Once and future prosecutor promises he'll clean up office

KENTUCKY
Despite some long lines, voting was mostly smooth
Kids vote just like adults
Republicans bask in victory
Pro-Kerry homework irks Mom

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