Ohio State students may be the deciding factor in the upcoming Columbus City Schools levy on the November ballot, a measure that would increase school funding and create an independent auditor position.
Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools is a committee that was formed in response to an Undergraduate Student Government vote to endorse the Columbus City Schools levy. USG President Taylor Stepp is set to chair the committee, which aims to raise awareness among OSU students in an effort to increase votes for the Columbus Education Plan.
“The Ohio State community is a part of the lifeblood of the city of Columbus,” Stepp said. “Given that we are such an integral part of the city of Columbus, it’s important that we stay civically engaged.”
The Columbus Education Plan includes Issue 50, which aims to issue bonds for school construction efforts and to improve technology. Issue 50 also includes a property tax levy to expand teacher training, fund childhood education and pay the independent auditor. The other part of the plan is Issue 51, which would create an independent auditor position for the Columbus City Schools. Mayor Michael Coleman said at a USG meeting Tuesday 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 levy would incur an additional $315 in taxes yearly for homeowners whose houses are valued at $100,000, according to the plan’s website.
Coleman said nearly 50 percent of Columbus schools have received a failing grade from the state.
Stepp said this statistic is discouraging, because he thinks attending a failing school can reduce a student’s chances to go to college.
“You can’t go to college if you don’t graduate high school, and if you don’t get a good education in high school you will not have the opportunity, more often than not, to go to college,” Stepp said. “When we fix these schools, we are saying, ‘We want you to come to the Ohio State University.’”
Coleman said at the USG meeting a data scandal that came out recently in the Columbus City Schools district provided a reason to change the system. That scandal broke in 2012 when The Columbus Dispatch uncovered 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 a failing grade by the state, Coleman said. According to the Board of Education, any failing grade is an “academic emergency.”
The committee attempting to influence OSU students’ votes, Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools, is made up of representatives from various student groups, including College Democrats, College Republicans, College Mentors for Kids, OSU Pan-Hellenic Association and USG, Stepp said.
Third-year in international business Tyler Duvelius, the political director for Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools who helps Stepp figure out what direction the committee should head politically, said OSU students could be the deciding factor in the election.
“What we have seen in polling is that people do feel really good about this levy passing, but they do recognize it’s going to be a really close election,” Duvelius said. “As Ohio State students, it seems almost every year Ohio and Ohio State becomes the center of the political world attention around November … how Ohio State students vote in this election may be able to tilt it one way or another, in whether this levy passes or not.”
Registration ends Monday for voters to be eligible to vote in the Nov. 5 general election, according to the Ohio Secretary of State website.
Students who are not Columbus residents also have a chance to vote, Stepp said.
“If you live in the traditional university area, you are part of the Columbus City Schools area,” Stepp said. “What we have been doing this week is trying to go around and register voters where they live currently.”
Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools has reached out to students in a variety of ways, Stepp said, by visiting campus organizations, canvassing and going door-to-door and registering people.
Stepp said improving the quality of Columbus City Schools can help encourage businesses to invest and bring jobs to Columbus.
“Columbus is thriving,” Stepp said. “We have added 58,000 jobs in the last three years in the city of Columbus … the question is who is going to take those jobs. If we are not educating our students, there is a talent pipeline gap there. It’s going to be discouraging job growth and economic development when you have students that are not prepared to take these jobs.”
Some in the Columbus area have questioned parts of the levy. While some want voters to be able to vote for the levy for charter and district schools separately, others feel Columbus City Schools doesn’t deserve citizens’ trust because of the scandal, according to the Dispatch.
Some students said OSU students should play a part in this issue.
“Ohio State is such a big part of the community,” said first-year in engineering Rory Flukes. “In that sense, because we are a large group of people and the concept of Ohio State as a whole, I think it’s important that we have influence on things like this.”
Brandon Stone, a third-year in computer science and engineering, said students who graduate from failing schools will have a harder time getting into and performing well at colleges like OSU.
“My high school did not have the greatest reputation to begin with either … everyone else was taught a little better than I was, so it was harder for me to compare,” Stone said. “We struggled with finding teachers in my high school that could actually teach a foreign language and were certified. That meant if I had to come (to OSU) and take a foreign language, it was going to be a lot more difficult because that foundation wasn’t there.”
Stepp said OSU students need to care about the levy for a few reasons.
“Every child regardless of race, family income or geographical location deserves a quality education … It will help our city and our region grow,” Stepp said. “We are a community that needs to be civically engaged in the city of Columbus. We need to pay it forward to our community and to students that do not have a voice.”
Daniel Bendtsen contributed to this article.