Sunday, October 22, 2000
Levy grade B
LEVY REQUEST: A 7.68-mill emergency operating levy to raise $2.4 million annually for five years. It includes renewal of an expiring levy equal to 2.7 mills, generating $868,000 a year, and an additional 4.98 mills to raise $1.6 million a year. It will cost the owner of an $84,000 home, typical in the district, an extra $128 annually in taxes.
OTHER LEVIES: In 1996, voters renewed a 6.72-mill levy for five years; in 1995, they passed a 3.4-mill emergency levy (now effectively 2.7 mills) that expires this year. Its renewal is part of this levy.
IF LEVY PASSES: It will pay for inflationary increases in current daily operations, provide 3 percent raises and more training for teachers.
IF LEVY FAILS: Yet undetermined cuts must be made.
Our recommendation: This is the same levy that voters rejected in August. The dollar needs have not changed, but the urgency for operating money grows as one levy expires in December. The board already has cut $1.15 million from next year's budget.
The August voter turnout was low and a small vocal group is campaigning against this levy. The group, led by former school board members unseated last election, is circulating a list of charges against current district leaders. They claim everything from fraud to inflated salaries and bad scores. We examined each claim, found some purely inflammatory, others misleading. We're satisfied that district leaders are acting properly. But we encourage concerned residents to call board members or the superintendent and ask both sides of the claims.
We agree and so do district leaders that low student achievement is the major problem for Norwood schools. But we say again, there are many positive changes in this district since we visited in 1996.
With the January appointment of a new superintendent, a new board and a state-mandated improvement plan, things are looking up. Norwood and other districts, such as Cincinnati Public, that are on Ohio's academic watch list are forced by the state's new accountability push to design detailed plans to raise performance. Norwood's plan provides a new compass to focus resources and improve scores.
This levy pays day-to-day operating bills, but also buys more help for struggling students and specialized training for teachers.
An alternative program for middle-school students who are two or more years behind grade level is keeping more kids in school. Norwood's 73 percent graduation rate is expected to rise to 82 percent on the next state report, up from 45 percent in the mid-1990s.
Other preliminary data show Norwood test scores up in some areas, down or the same in others. All the more reason the district needs to get beyond the distracting political infighting that diverts time and attention from the pressing job of improving daily education for Norwood kids.
The new leadership is trying to rebuild public trust and school morale after battles last year led to the resignations of a long-time superintendent and others.
This levy is key to refocusing on children's education in Norwood schools. Voters should give the new leadership a chance to move forward by approving this levy.