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Columbus Schools Win Hard-Earned Levy In Otherwise Grim Year for Ohio Districts

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Against a background of high unemployment, a low proportion of voters with children in public schools, and a desegregation order unpopular with many residents, the Columbus, Ohio, schools last week won their first tax increase in 13 years.

"The odds against us were stacked very high," said Superintendent Joseph L. Davis. "I'm elated."

The 7.6-mill additional levy, which was approved with 54 percent of the votes cast, will yield $25.2 million per year for the 71,000-student system--a one-sixth increase over this year's $150-million budget. Five levy referendums had been turned down at the polls in the last 10 years.

Mr. Davis attributed this year's success to "a marvelous campaign planned and executed by a citizens' committee. The school staff really worked for them." The citizens' committee included several "loaned executives" from local businesses, many of whom are experts in marketing, and it hired an advertising firm with extensive experience in public-finance issues, he said.

And, Mr. Davis said, the schools' need for more money was never seriously questioned.

"The needs were so real, so tangible," the superintendent said. "One of the TV spots featured two textbooks that were terribly out of6date--a science book that said, 'Man may someday go to the moon,' and a social-studies book that said, 'As we enter the 1970's..."'

The additional revenue will allow the system to pay its teacher competitive salaries, to expand in-service training, to make repairs that had been deferred, to develop a planned "mastery-learning" program, and to re-open elementary-school libraries full time after several months of staffing them with part-time volunteers.

"In 1979, we desegregated this system thoroughly and peacefully," Mr. Davis said. "In 1980 we reorganized it into middle schools and four-year high schools and revamped the administration. Now in 1981, we've gotten this levy. We're looking for an encore for 1982."

Elsewhere in the state, less than 41 percent of proposed local school levies won approval.

Of 248 issues on local ballots--including proposals for both building and operating funds--only 101 passed, according to Roger Lulow, assistant state superintendent of public instruction. Of the 173 issues that asked the voters to pay higher school taxes, 39 percent passed.

"That's lower than it's been for the last four years," Mr. Lulow said. "It's almost identical to the '76 rate" of passage.

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