All-Out Campaigns Seek Support for Levies in Cincinnati, Columbus

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Supporters of the public-school systems in two of Ohio's largest cities are waging all-out campaigns to pass critical tax levies next week that would keep the districts afloat.

Voters in both cities, Cincinnati and Columbus, defeated levies last fall, forcing the districts to slash their budgets and borrow money from the state.

The districts are the largest of the 247 in Ohio that are asking voters to approve tax increases in the current round of levy elections, according to the state education department.

The Ohio levies are among the most significant education-related ballot measures facing voters in local elections on Nov. 5.

In Seattle, voters will be asked to approve a tax increase to pay for new technology and school renovations. In California, school-board members in four Orange County districts who backed tax hikes are facing recall elections, while San Franciscans will be asked to approve a special tax for education.

In the mayoral election in Boston, incumbent Mayor Raymond L. Flynn is widely expected to turn back a challenge by Edward J. Doherty, president of the Boston Teachers Union. (See Education Week, June 12, 1991.)

Three current or former members of the city's soon-to-be-abolished school committee, meanwhile, are trying to win seats on the city council. The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, district officials, and business leaders have joined forces in an effort to persuade voters to approve that city's proposed levy, which would raise $45 million a year for schools for the next five years.

The supporters are spending an estimated $100,000 on advertising, and are staffing phone banks to get out the vote.

Admitting Shortcomings

Mindful of the discontent with the Cincinnati schools that contributed to last fall's levy defeat, district and union officials have made a number of changes in policy that they hope will convince voters that the schools are worth supporting. The district has toughened its discipline cede, raised graduation standards, and next year will institute a "no pass, no play" athletics policy.

But Denise Hewitt, the levy campaign's field director, said last week that recent polls indicate the vote will be close.

J. Michael Brandt, the interim superintendent of schools, has made television advertisements in which he acknowledges voters' dissatisfaction with the school system. In the ads, Ms. Hewitt said, Mr. Brandt talks about the reform measures and tells viewers, "I know you're angry. And I'm angry, too."

If the levy fails, the district will be forced to cut $42 million from its budget, which would mean "dismantling the district," according to Robert L. Moore, an assistant superintendent in the state education department.

The levy would allow teachers and school office employees to receive 4 percent raises this year and in the next two years. If the levy fails, negotiations would resume on the financial aspects of the agreement. School-levy advocates in Columbus are also waging a vigorous campaign. They are asking voters to approve a tax increase that would generate $50 million in new money for the school system for an unspecified number of years.

'Most Aggressive Ever'

'Trfis has been the most aggressive effort we have ever put together," said Kwesi Kambon, who took a 10-week leave from the Columbus schools' central office to assist with the campaign.

With more than $320,000 donated by the business community, the teachers' union, and other school district employees, Columbus officials are mailing out literature and eight-minute videos to voters detailing why the levy is needed.

The effort is being managed by professional political-campaign organizers, Mr. Kambon said.

If voters refuse to increase their property taxes, the district will have to slash $34 million from its budget, which Mr. Kambon said would result in the layoffs of 400 to 700 employees.

Polls in Columbus also show that the vote will be close. But unlike last year, there is no organized opposition to the levy.

Computers, Repairs in Seattle?

While the Ohio levies are needed to keep up with inflation, the $50-million Seattle levy would pay for $25 million worth of new computers, software, and vocational-education materials. The rest of the levy would be used to renovate deteriorating school buildings and bring them into compliance with current codes.

The Seattle school board did not vote until September to put the levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, but voter support for education in the city has been shown to be strong.

Other than spending $4,000 to print fact sheets about what the money would buy, the school district has not spent any money to promote the levy, according to Larry Miller, a spokesman for the district.

Boston Campaign

In Boston, where voters will elect a mayor and four at-large city councilors next week, three of the eight candidates vying for council seats are current or former members of the Boston School Committee. The committee will be abolished next year and replaced with an advisory beard appointed by the mayor. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

Several of their opponents in the council race have criticized the school-committee veterans for the committee's failure to stay within its budget and for the educational failings of the school system.

One candidate, Francis J. Costello, ran a radio commercial over the summer calling the three candidates with school-committee experience "the three blind mice."

Steve Bing, director of the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, a child-advocacy group that supports school reform, said that only John Nucci, a former president of the school committee, is considered to have a chance of winning a council seat. Mr. Bing and other observers said education has not been a subject of much debate in the Boston elections, despite the mayoral candidacy of Mr. Doherty, the teachers-union chief.

As evidence that education is not a major theme of the campaign, Mr. Bing pointed to the ongoing strike by school-bus drivers. He said neither mayoral candidate has said much about the strike, despite the fact that it is keeping children out of school. Elsewhere around the country:

  • In Orange County, Calif., an organization called Citizens for Accountability in Education has mounted a recall drive against 19 trustees in four school districts who last summer backed a controversial new levy on property in each of their districts to raise money for schools.
    The trustees from the Huntington Beach City, Huntington Beach Union High, Ocean View, and Westminster school districts later repealed the levies under public pressure, but angry voters have pressed on with the recall attempts on next week's ballot.
  • The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to hold a special election Dec. 10 on an initiative to increase the city sales tax to help pay for education.
    The measure calls for the sales tax to increase to 8.50 percent, from 8.25 percent, with 65 percent of the new money going to the city's school district and 35 percent to community colleges. The tax increase, which would be in effect for up to 17 months, would raise an estimated $23 million in additional revenue in its first 12 months.
    In a separate measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, San Franciscans will vote on a proposed city-charter amendment that would guarantee a certain level of funding for children's services. (See Education Week, Oct. 23, 1991 .)

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Page 5

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