CCS levy committee meets

Columbus City Schools are getting closer to a decision regarding a levy for the November ballot.

The Levy Millage Committee for the district finalized their recommendations to the board of education to place a levy on the fall ballot at a meeting held June 11.

The committee, which is made up of a variety of business leaders, community members and school staff will present four millage and bond scenarios.

These recommendations will be officially submitted to the CCS board of education at a June 27 meeting.

The options the levy committee offered includes four millage rates, ranging from 7.42, 8.31, 8.23 and 8.68 mills. This would increase the property tax for the average $100,000 home in the CCS district from an additional $227 to $266 per year.

The two lowest millage rates would, however, include a reconfiguration of the grades kindergarten through sixth and then seventh through high school.

Two of the four millage recommendations include a bond package for items such as new buildings, replacing school buses, funding for pre-kindergarten, Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] and up-to-date textbooks and laptops.

Chad Jester, president of the Nationwide Foundation and levy committee member said that the committee prioritized what was really important for the district in the four millage packages. This means all a  four options are a result of Ohio CORE graduation requirements, class size reductions in elementary schools and offering Safe and Secure Environments.

The bond package recommendations allow the board to piece together each aspect of the bond the board deems essential to the ballot.

"Our recommendations are going to be focused on priorities, so if they want to decide they want to look at the pre-k piece or the ERP piece, those would have to be additional considerations," said Jester.

All the millage packages will require CCS to make some reductions in their budget up to 18 to 20 million yearly, which would give the district a cumulative savings amount of $76 million.

Dr. Gene T. Harris, Superintendent of CCS, said the only cutback specifically identified so far is the closing of schools with declining enrollment.

All the options include school closings, anywhere from six to twenty-one schools, depending on which millage rate and school configuration is used.

Harris said there are other potential cost savings up for review.

"It would be personnel, allocation of the buildings, reviewing the programs, transportation, and again I’m not saying that potential reductions will be limited to this but these are some of the major areas that we know we’ll be looking at," said Harris.

Harris also said that the grade and building reconfigurations do make sense because the requirements of Ohio CORE demand increased levels of mathematics and science for students to graduate. This reconfiguration allows the district to have "feeder programs" throughout the elementary, middle and high school programs that enables teachers to mark the progress of students as they go to ensure students’ ability to graduate.

"There is typically a challenge when we have a multiple transitions and this eliminates transitions from eighth to ninth grade and allows us to build stronger neighborhood schools which I believe that our families really want," said Harris.

Betty Drummond, CCS board member, also noted that some community members might wonder why this reconfiguration would require seventh and eighth graders going to high school classes for high school credit.

"It’s a certification issue. In order to give a student high school credit, you have to have a high school teacher doing it, so our hands are tied. There wouldn’t be enough work for a high school teacher in middle school," said Drummond.

Harris said she thinks the community reaction will be positive to the proposals by the levy committee.

"I think hopefully they will see we’ve been as reasonable as we possibly could. You know, we asked ‘What do we need to get done and what do we need to get done now?’

And these are the things we need to get done," said Harris. "We have tried to take into consideration the whole economic demeanor in the community but also balance that with the need to continue improvement on the academic side for our students; we do not want to lose this momentum."

The deadline for the board to put the levy and bond issue on the ballot is the end of August.

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