Columbus School Board Begins Discussions On Levy Request

Jul 17, 2013

The Columbus City School Board began discussion on the recommendation for a November combined levy request last night -- but some found the proposal a bit light on details.

Alison Holm reports.

The 9.01 mil combined levy recommended by the millage committee last week and presented to the board covers a lot of ground -- spending $42.5 million to expand pre-school offerings, similar amounts to duplicate successful programs and recruit and retain high quality staff, $33 million to add computers and other technologies, $175 milion to fund 10 new construction projects and add Wi-Fi components. The plan dedicates $5 million dollars to fund an independent external auditor -- if voters approve that position in a separate ballot question. One of the more controversial elements of the levy was covered under legislation signed by the governor Monday -- the provision that charter schools designated by a yet-to-be-named public-private committee share in the levy revenues. Board member and millage committee chair Gary Baker says that estimated $42.5 million dollars will go to a limited number of schools.

GB: What the committee... what the millage committee talked about is high-perfomring communtiy schools that meet the new standards that will be set by the public-private partnership. Only non-profit community schools, so no for-priofit entities would receive any levy dollars. Also, those community schools that do meet the criteria would then have to contract with the district in order to receive any dollars.

While the committee's proposal broke down the allocation of levy revenues into eight different categories, some board members wanted to see even more detail before they could decide whether to approve going to the public with the unprecedentedly large request. Mike Wiles pressed repeatedly for more information about how many charter schools would be helped, how programs would be replicated, what would happen to the auditor's allocation if the position wasn't approved -- details Baker said were beyond the scope of his committee.

GB: You wanted the millage committee to tell the board of education how to spend this money over the next five years? What level of detail did you expect?

MW: I mean, if you're going to ask me to spend money out of my pocket, I'd at least like to know what I'm getting for it. If we're going to be transparent and ask the voters to dip in their pockets again, they need a little more depth and breadth of what's going on to make that determination.

Board member Hanifah Kambon says the committee's recommendations are a starting point for the board's discussion. But before voters have to weigh in on the levy, she'd like the district to get even more specific, spelling out how expectations will be measured.

HK: This was not the charge of the millage committee - they just wanted to give us a frame -- but as we roll this out, I pray we will be able to be very specific, after this board meets to develop a strategic plan, so we can see where all this fits. I do think it is incumbent on us to know say that 'school leadership' means A, B and C, that 'district operations' means A, B and C. Because at the end of the day, our constiuents want to see results. They want to see what the outcomes are. So, to just say, I'm alloting $200 for this, $500 for this... at the end of the day, what are the deliverables?

The board is scheduled to vote on the millage committees recomendations next week. If it passes, the 9.01 mill levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $315 a year. Among the community commitments included in the proposal is a promise not to go to the voters for another levy before 2018.