Polls open Tuesday to vote on the proposed $9 million Columbus City Schools levy, and Ohio State President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee is on board despite some opposition throughout the city.
Gee was part of a discussion among local organizations, students and community members about the proposed levy Monday where he called for support of the levy because of its direct impact on OSU as well as the Columbus community.
“We (OSU) are the recipients of high quality public education. If public education is not of high quality, then we cannot continue to thrive in this institution — there is a direct impact,” Gee said.
Gee answered questions from supporters and skeptics among an audience of about 60 people at Gateway Film Center regarding the Columbus Education Plan.
The Columbus Education Plan 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.
“You cannot have a great university without a great city,” Gee said. “We cannot have a core of a city that is deteriorating in front of us, without all of us being affected.”
Gee said Issue 50, which demands a 24 percent increase on property tax of Columbus residents, is necessary for a fresh start for the district following a 2012 report from The Columbus Dispatch that uncovered the manipulation of student data by district officials over the course of several years in efforts to improve the district’s grades during the annual assessment by the Ohio Department of Education.
“You cannot change on a dime, unless you have a dime to make that change,” Gee said. “You cannot pivot unless there is an ability to make that pivot with some resources.”
These resources generated by Issue 50 would pay for salaries, school supplies and operating expenses and would also go toward privately run charter schools within CCS. In addition to resources, Gee said “a level of faith and trust” from the Columbus community must be given to the failing district in order to see better results.
“Yes, mistakes were made and we admit that,” Gee said. “This is not simply about money — it’s about a series of fundamental cultural, social and economic corrective actions that I think really do make sense.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said he agreed with Gee that the potential passing of the CCS levy is important to OSU.
“Ohio State University is an institution that is not just located in the city of Columbus — we are actually part of the lifeblood of the city of Columbus,” said Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs. “With that being said, students have a stake in this.”
Stepp said he wants to make sure CCS students have the opportunity to attend OSU by ensuring their standardized testing scores are high enough by means of the resources the levy will bring.
Yaves Ellis, a member of the Create Columbus Commission, which co-hosted the discussion, said the passing of the levy is imperative to the growth of Columbus.
“This is an issue that is about money as well as schools which are two very important topics when it comes to the growth of Columbus as well as the growth of our future,” Ellis said.
Miranda Onnen, a third-year in political science and economics who attended the discussion, said she plans to vote for the levy because of the investment it will have on her degree.
“It’s an investment in Columbus schools. I plan on graduating Ohio State and potentially going to school here after graduation,” Onnen said. “I want my degree from Ohio State to be worth more than it is now.
“By improving Columbus as a city — that’s one of the ways were are going to be able to do that — through the improvement of public schools. More kids from Columbus can come here, which will improve the profile of the school in the nation, which will improve my degree and help me find a job after graduation.”
However, not everyone in Columbus is on board with Issues 50 and 51.
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.”
Maria Kozelek, a mother of children enrolled in CCS, 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 told The Lantern.
Monday’s discussion was hosted by the Create Columbus Commission in partnership with the Columbus Young Professionals Club, USG, the Columbus Urban League and the United Way of Central Ohio.
Daniel Bendtsen contributed to this article.