Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman addressed the Undergraduate Student Government Tuesday night in an effort to gain support for two city school funding measures up for approval on the general ballot in November.
Coleman said the proposals are a “revolution” of the city schools and urged OSU students to get involved, stressing that college is an important precursor for civic life.
Coleman said Columbus is in a period of “renaissance” and that “if you can’t make it in Columbus, you can’t make it.”
As the largest city in Ohio, Coleman called Columbus “the city of opportunity.”
In spite of the otherwise growth and successes Columbus has seen, Coleman said its schools are failing, and the entire community is to blame.
“We got to this point because all of us failed our kids. From the school board, to parents, to community leadership, to business leadership and even the mayor — all of us failed our kids,” he said.
Coleman said the improvement of schools is the primary step Columbus needed to continue an “environment of progress.”
“A city that stays the same, falls behind,” he said.
Coleman said the data scandal that unfolded in Columbus City Schools provided an impetus for change. That scandal broke in 2012 when The Columbus Dispatch uncovered that administrators had progressively manipulated student data more and more over the course of several years in order to improve the district’s grades during the Ohio Department of Education’s annual assessment.
“I don’t run the school district, but I thought we were doing pretty good, because that’s all I heard,” Coleman said. “But the data scandal caused me and others to intervene into the district and find out what’s really going on — and it opened my eyes.”
Accurate assessments taken after data manipulation ended show that more than 50 percent of the city’s schools now receive an failing grade by the state, Coleman said. According to the Board of Education, any failing grade is an “academic emergency.”
Many of those schools are also in low-income and minority areas, Coleman said.
Coleman said he put together a commission of a variety of people to tackle the issue. He said the comission started the endeavor all disagreeing about possible solutions, but were able to work together to create the Columbus Education Plan.
Tommy Zaino, a first-year in business economics, said he liked the approach Coleman has taken to address this problem.
“He had a lot of bipartisan initiatives and took inputs from all across the political spectrum when coming up with this plan, and I think it will be interesting to see how it works out for the city of Columbus,” he said.
The fallout of the data scandal is the reason part of the Columbus Education Plan entails Issue 51, which would create a independent auditor position for the Columbus City Schools. Coleman said an independent auditor would provide a much needed check on the power of the Columbus school board, which Coleman said has more autonomy than a government entity should have.
The other part of the Columbus Education Plan is Issue 50, which aims to issue bonds for school construction efforts and to improve technology.
Issue 50 would also includes a property tax levy for teacher training, paying for childhood education and to pay the independent auditor.
Callie Nauman, a third-year in environmental science, called the mayor’s address “inspiring.”
“College students really aren’t involved in the community as they should be, and I think the levy would be good for Columbus,” she said.
USG President Taylor Stepp told The Lantern after the address he expects Coleman’s presence will encourage students to get more involved in the campaign.
“We’ve got it star-powered with his endorsement. He’s a very important man with plenty of obligations, but he chose to spend an hour of his time with undergraduate students at the Ohio State University. It’s huge. I think to have the mayor come here to talk, it’s pretty clear in showing the importance that Ohio State plays in this campaign,” Stepp said.
USG voted to endorse Issues 50 and 51 last Wednesday at their General Assembly meeting. In response to the resolution, Stepp is chairing a new committee, Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools, which consists of representatives from College Democrats, College Republicans, College Mentors for Kids, the Pan-Hellenic Association and two other USG representatives.
That coalition is tasked with engaging fellow students about the Columbus City Schools levy campaign to spur votes.
USG issued voter registration forms at the Tuesday event in an attempt to engage students. Stepp said he is encouraged by the wide array of student representatives his committee has assembled, and expects it will be able to reach a lot of OSU students.