Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris called for public support of Issue 75 on the November ballot at the annual State of the Schools Address held at Fort Hayes High School on Oct. 9.
Harris said when the Columbus City Schools (CCS) Board of Education went to the public with a levy request for the ballot in 2002 and 2004, they made promises to Columbus citizens that they kept.
Promises, according to Harris, that include better checks and balances in areas of fiscal responsibility, such as adding financial advisors to the Audit and Accountability Committee. These promises also included being conscientious with the resources they had available and not allowing the school budget to grow more than three percent. They included getting buildings renovated on time and on budget.
“We have cut more than $100 million dollars from the budget and stayed within that budget and did all that and still made academic achievements,” said Harris.
Harris said Columbus has shown to be raising the bar when it comes to the academic performance of their children.
Harris cited the district ranking with the Ohio Department of Education to the level of “Continuous Improvement” and graduation rates rising from 54 percent to over 70 percent, as well as the level of scholarships going from $41 million dollars in the 2001 and 2002 school years to $57 million dollars for 2008.
“We have also received some state and national acclaim. Eight of our high schools have been recognized as being among some of the best high schools in the nation,” she said.
Harris noted that for U.S. students to keep up with students in other countries, college has become increasingly important and since the Ohio Core was enacted, Ohio schools have to have the resources necessary to ensure students are adequately prepared for the higher standards that Ohio Core demands.
“That will begin with our class of 2014. By that time, our students will have to have four years of college preparatory math, three years of college preparatory science, along with other rigorous core curriculum, so they can graduate and get into the college of their choice,” said Harris.
Harris said passing Issue 75 would allow Columbus to reduce classroom size in grades K-3 and also to bring a period back into the day.
“That was a tough decision that nobody wanted to make, starting with me, and I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to bring that time back into to day because we’ve got more challenges,” said Harris. “Graduation standards are higher and we’re going to have to have that time and more.”
Also according to Harris, regardless of the levy’s results, the district will have to make $76 million dollars worth of cuts in their budget during the life of the levy. Programs that are inefficient will be cut and operations will be scoured for possible savings.
“I want to say to you if we’re going to sustain this achievement, if we’re going to continue to build this infrastructure as we have, I hope you understand by now why Issue 75 is so important to us. We don’t want to go backwards. We don’t want to disappoint any of the younger people anywhere, any of the young people that are here tonight. We want to give them what they need to be successful,” said Harris.