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Despite some community opposition, Ohio State students push for Columbus City Schools levy

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Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp speak at a USG meeting Oct. 1. Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp speak at a USG meeting Oct. 1 at Ohio Union.
Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

In the remaining time before Election Day, undergraduate leaders have ramped up efforts to gain Ohio State student support for two Columbus City Schools measures on the ballot, while others in Columbus work to discourage voters from saying “yes.”

Led by Undergraduate Student Government-affiliated group Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools, more than 100 volunteers have been passing out flyers on campus and going door-to-door in the off-campus community, said Tyler Duvelius, a third-year in international business and the governmental affairs director for USG.

The measures the group is supporting are part of the Columbus Education Plan, which includes Issue 50 and 51. Issue 50 aims to issue bonds for school construction efforts and to improve technology and includes a property tax levy to expand teacher training, fund childhood education and pay the independent auditor. The plan also includes Issue 51, which would create a independent auditor position for the Columbus City Schools.

Such last minute efforts on the part of Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools might play a deciding factor in the outcome as the Tuesday election approaches, as polling firm Saperstein Associates head Martin Saperstein told The Columbus Dispatch last week that the campaign is currently “too close to call.”

In a poll for The Dispatch, Saperstein Associates found 45 percent of likely voters support the measure, while 44 percent are in opposition. However, Saperstein said undecided respondents tend to be “closet ‘no’ voters.”

Despite this, USG President Taylor Stepp remains hopeful that Issues 50 and 51 will pass.

“I’m confident that we’re going to win this, but I also believe this is an extremely close election, and it’s going to come down to turnout. We’ve got to get people to the polls who are going to vote ‘yes’ for this thing,” he said.

That need for supporter turnout is the impetus for Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools’ “get out the vote” effort, which has canvassed the off-campus community since Sunday and will continue until Tuesday.

The campaign has been distributing flyers door-to-door in an off-campus perimeter that stretches from Patterson Avenue down to King Avenue and as far east as Summit Street, Duvelius said.

Duvelius said no USG money was used to support the campaign, and all flyers and other materials were provided by the primary campaign, Reimagine Columbus Education.

The student campaign was initiated in September after a representative from Mayor Michael Coleman’s office contacted USG, Duvelius said.

From there, Stepp took the issue on and USG drafted a resolution to create Buckeyes for New Columbus Schools, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly Sept. 25. The commission consists of representatives from USG, Greek Life, College Republicans, College Democrats and College Mentors for Kids.

Less than a week after the vote, USG brought in Mayor Michael Coleman to urge students to support the measure at a USG General Assembly meeting Oct. 1.

Coleman said the data-scrubbing scandal exposed by The Dispatch in 2012 provided an impetus for reform of the school system. The Dispatch reported that administrators had progressively manipulated student data 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.”

The fallout of the data scandal is the reason why the plan includes Issue 51. Coleman said an independent auditor would provide a much-needed check on the power of the Columbus Board of Education, which Coleman said has more autonomy than a government entity should have.

The proposed tax levy would cost homeowners whose houses are valued at $100,000 an additional $315 each year.

Because of those tax increases, opposition groups have also sprung up. A statement issued Oct. 16 by Citizens Against Issues 50 & 51 said Issue 50 would create an “unnecessary intergenerational conflict between the young and the aged. We object to the disparate impact this property tax hike will have upon some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens: our senior citizens living on fixed incomes.”

Additionally, the statement said Issue 51’s creation of a auditor role is unnecessary, and could create a conflict of interest because that position would be appointed rather than elected.

The opposition campaign has been distributing yard signs throughout the Columbus and organized a march Sunday.

Joel King, Jr., minister at Union Grove Baptist Church, has been working with Citizens Against 50 & 51, and told The Lantern Sunday that Columbus City Schools’ problems are the result of incompetence, not a lack of funding, and the city needs to be held accountable for its poor performance and the data-scrubbing before asking for more money.

“We do know it needs to be reformed, that’s obvious, but if we knew all the facts, we could probably get a better assessment,” he said. “We’re saying ‘no’ right now, not ‘no’ forever. Just don’t push something down our throats with more money that’s bad money, and not solve the problem. We’ve got to solve the problem and clean up house first.”

King told The Lantern Sunday he and his colleagues have bought radio time as well as going door-to-door.

Using a spiderweb strategy of reaching students through other students, the USG student campaign has spoken with a variety of student groups and Greek chapters over the past month, Stepp said.

“It’s difficult because you’re trying to hit 40-some thousand kids … It’s difficult to make sure all of these kids are getting to the polls, so we wanted to make sure that we had a significant way of doing that,” Stepp said. “We got a student coalition from students from all across campus that are part of this as well. I’m excited to be a part of it, but I’m also right in the middle of it right now so I’m really tired, but it’s been a good time.”

In addition, the campaign registered about 100 students to vote, Duvelius said, and volunteers have spent up to four hours a day canvassing around campus since Oct. 16.

Samantha Horne, a third-year in English and USG senator, volunteered to work on the campaign in part because of her first-hand experience.

“It’s fighting for children who really need to be fought for, and that’s also my career goal. I work in a low-income school district currently, so I know and I see everyday what we need to do to bring things up,” Horne said. “So that’s why I think it’s really important to inform people on this and to fight for it.”

Stepp said he has backed the effort it part because he believes poorly performing city schools are an issue relevant to OSU students.

“This is a campus concern,” he said. “If you look at one of our high schools in Columbus City Schools, one of our schools has a 47 percent graduation rate. What are those kids doing if they’re not graduating high school? They could be perpetrating crimes or they could be doing something that is not providing for their family or their future, and those are the kinds of things that could affect Ohio State in the future, not just on a safety note, but also on an academic development piece. We’re going to limit ourselves and the kind of jobs that are coming to this great city if we don’t have a good talent pipeline coming out of Columbus City Schools, and if we don’t invest in our community.”

Maria Kozelek, a mother of children enrolled in Columbus City Schools, has been involved in with an opposition group called “It’s Okay to Vote No” that is mainly composed of parents and teachers.

Kozelek said Issues 50 and 51 don’t provide an adequate plan for how the funding would improve the school system.

“We want a plan that really engages parents and teachers in the school building on a day-to-day basis … and get some really good solutions that might not cost that much money,” she said.

Kozelek said teachers and principals need to be given more control of the city’s education and smaller class sizes need to be encouraged.

“We all have kids in a variety of schools across the district, and we’ve all volunteered all over the city in a lot of different schools. I’m all about improving the schools,” she said. “I want to support a levy that shows how we’ve going to do that, and has all the details spelled out and helps people out on the frontline. If they can put a levy together like that, I will come back and sing from the mountains to help them with that levy … (But) without knowing how we’re going to be helping the kids and the buildings, I’m not so sure this is the right levy.”

Kozelek also said the cost of the current levies could negatively impact OSU students if rising property taxes cause landlords to raise rent prices.

 

5 comments

  1. It's easy to support a 70 MILLION dollar levy when you don't have to write any checks to pay for it.

  2. Tuition and rent checks don't count?

  3. Kyle Schmiesing Please explain how the 70 million dollar tax levy funded by real estate ownership taxes relates to tuition. Most students don't equate rent with real estate taxes either. Probably because they are not earning much just yet thus they haven't yet enjoyed the personal thrill of working the first 3 months of every year to fund the government. They also don't typically pay rent, parents do. If you goto school full time and work full time and pay taxes and all of your bills now more power to ya. Keep up the good work.

  4. The Columbus School Board let Gene Harris run wild and she drove the school district into the ground, then RETIRED. Instead of being humiliated she got about 70% of her last years compensation which was $205,980 ($186,480 base salary, $13,500 tax sheltered annuity and a $6,000 car allowance) so she drives the school district into the ground and gets a pension as a 'thank you'. Our city's solution is to throw 70 million dollars at the problem.

    I suggest that it's a "People Problem". Warren Buffett once said, "Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy."

  5. Issue 50 certainly went down in flames. Even the ignorant lemmings in Columbus weren't fooled by this one.

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