Columbus Schools Levy Fails

Nov 6, 2013

While the four bond issues to safeguard the city's public utilities, public service, public safety and parks and recreation system passed comfortably last night, the two issues focused on the city schools failed by a more than 2 to 1 margin.

Alison Holm reports.

Backers of the Columbus City Schools two tax issues raised over $2 million for the campaign. Columbus mayor Michael Coleman was the most outspoken and oft-quoted supporter of the district’s issues, and he managed to claim a measure of success last night, even as those issues were resoundingly defeated.

MC: While the levy has failed, we have been successful in making education the topic of discussion in this city… Now what we have is a robust discussion about education in Columbus. And that can only be a good thing.

But Jon Beard, who organized the opposition group "No Cheaters, No Charters" says the problem was not a lack of discussion, but a lack of answers. Backers of the issues raised over 2 million dollars for the campaign, compared to the grass-roots opposition who had about 4-thousand dollars on hand. Beard says the levy and bond issue and it’s companion request to fund an independent auditor failed because there were too many vague or unresolved questions, starting with on-going federal investigations into data and attendance scrubbing scandals.

JB: You wouldn’t give money to Bernie Madoff after he was indicted – why should the public give money to Columbus public schools when indictments are pending? It was the issue of charter schools: you know, local funding for charter schools in excess of what the state provides. It was the whole issue of Pre-K, and this expansion of pre-K that was said was universal pre-K but’s not really universal pre-K, and they can’t fund all the kids… Too many questions of incredibly vague proposals, no best practices in evidence. And the people saw that, and the people objected.

Beard says Issue 50 offered something for everyone to hate, and it certainly was a grab bag of goals. The 9.01 mil combined bond and levy request promised money for technology, building improvements, improved training, new programs, as well as money for high-performing community schools in the district. Columbus school board member Mike Wiles, who lost his seat last night, says he tried to convince his colleagues they would fare better if those issues were offered separately.

MW: I tried to explain that to them, and tried to break ‘em down into five different parts. Everybody I talked to said that there was no way they were going to do anything with the charter school piece, and it needed to be broken out. It was ill conceived and it wasn’t a good deal for Columbus.

Interim superintendent Dan Good came in this summer with plans to open up and streamline the district. He says he’s disappointed in the results, but not discouraged by the message he got from voters last night.

DG: They want restored confidence in governance and management of their resources at the district level. Perhaps they need more time to recognize that they can trust this. We’re being more transparent we’re being more efficient without compromising our effectiveness -- and all of those things seem to be things that our community embraces.

During the course of the campaign, city officials and private sector businesses promised they would become more involved in the district. Former school board president Terry Boyd, who actively opposed the issues, says there’s no reason why those same parties can’t be part of a new path for the district.

TB: If in fact you’re committed to educational reform – and I have no reason to believe that they’re not – then let’s just fasten our seat belts, go at it again, but this time let’s come up with our vision, let’s come up with our goals, let’s come up with our objectives, and then come up with a tactical plan to reach and achieve each objective that we come up with.

Last night’s levy defeat was the first for the district in over 20 years and school officials say it’s too soon to say whether they will return with another levy request in the spring. Superintendent Good still has to deliver on his promise to cut 50 million dollars from the district budget. But he says he’s now informed by the conversations he’s had with thousands of voters over the last few months.