Columbus Schools Bracing For Cuts

Mar 6, 2013

Columbus City Schools could cut classes, jobs, and transportation under a series of proposals presented last night.

But the seven-member board stressed that they -- and they alone -- will make any decisions on the future of the district. Alison Holm has more.


When the Columbus City Schools decided to postpone a levy request last year, they knew they were running out of time to find the funds to maintain current services. Last night superintendent Gene Harris said she needs to know now what the board is willing to cut in order to plug a projected $25 million budget shortfall next year. The administration proposed a series of cuts that could save the district a total of $29 million, but the board says they need more time to consider the options. The list includes cutting a period from the school day for middle- and high-schoolers, eliminating 103 teaching positions and saving the district 8.3 million. Cutting 136 instructional aides, custodians and skilled trades positions could save another 4.9 million. Ending middle-school extra-curricular activities would net another half a million in savings. And dropping bussing for all high-school students - including non-district students - could trim another $4.2 million, although Harris warned that could create chaos in the open district, where many students attends schools far from their own neighborhood. Harris asked the board for the flexibility to make those cuts herself, but the board balked, saying it's their right to make those calls.

The board also stressed their sovereignty by approving a resolution reiterating that the elected board is the only proper governing body for the district. The resolution surfaced after suggestions were raised by the Columbus Education Commission that there might be room for outside parties to help run the district. The Commission was launched last fall by the mayor and city council president in the wake of the district's attendance scrubbing scandal, to look into ways to improve education. School board president Carol Perkins, who also serves on the commission, admits there have been discussions about changing the way the district is run. The board heard support from a former employee, Damon Asbury, who spoke last night on behalf of the Ohio School Board Association.

ASBURY: The Ohio School Board Association last year conducted a survey, a random survey, of citizens across the state. And we found that two-thirds of the respondents in that survey trust their local board of education to make educational decision in the best interests of their children -- as compared to 15% who believe that the state superintendent has the best knowledge, 6% who think the governor has the best knowledge, and 3% who believe the state legislature.

But the board also heard from the other side. District parent Sheila Eubanks urged the board to be open to ideas from the outside.

EUBANKS: ... and I want the board to assist them in every way that they can. When it comes to a point that I feel -- or we as a community feel -- that they're overstating their bounds, then we'll step up, and back you. but with the problems that we have presented -- somebody's not doing some work. And I think now is the time that we do, indeed, have an outside commission to look in and see what's going on.

The mayor's Education Commission has scheduled a meeting on governance and accountability later this month. The school board has set up a special meeting to debate proposed budget cuts for Monday.