Superintendent. Gene Harris’ prayers were answered on Nov. 4.
Voters in the Columbus City School district accepted the fiscal promise made by the board of education by a large margin by passing Issue 75, a combined levy and bond.
The $164-million 1.13-mill bond issue and a 7.85-mill permanent operating levy passed by more than 62 percent.
Between absentee votes and Election Day votes, more than 113,000 voters approved the issue, with a little less than 68,000 voting against it.
Harris said voters have once again come through for the children of the district.
“We are so grateful to the community for supporting the children and the future, and for believing in teachers, principals and staff, so much so that they would say ‘yes’,” Harris said at a reception downtown election night.
Had voters turned down the issue, the district would have faced a budget deficit of more than $368 million by fiscal year 2013.
By passing the issue, voters approved moving forward with a construction plan as well as the purchase of new buses, textbooks, technology with bond monies. Voters also approved the reestablishment of a 40-minute period in the school day previously eliminated by cuts, the hiring of staff to teach course requirements of the Ohio Core curriculum, as well as the construction of four theme-based schools in the district, all using levy monies.
The levy will cost an owner of a $100,000 home an estimated $240 a year. The bond portion of the issue won’t cost taxpayers any new money.
Though Issue 75 passed, the board has made a promise to the community to be fiscally responsible by making more than $15 million in cuts each year for the next four years, and by making the operating levy money last until at least 2012. Cuts include closing six buildings due to low enrollment and reducing staff accordingly, as well as finding ways to maximize efficiency in the transportation and food services department.
By 11 p.m. Election Night, school officials and board members had grown confident that the issue would pass as results showed the issue winning by more than 30,000 votes.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Harris spoke with constituents in the district, most of whom supported the issue. Though it relieved her to hear of the support, she still worried.
“I was a bit frightened,” she said. “There were so many people saying yes, and so many people so early saying yes. We had the support of area commissions, neighborhood groups. We had so many people saying they would support it that I was frightened and kept asking myself, ‘what are we leaving out?’”
Though district officials celebrated the results of the election, district spokesperson Jeffrey Warner stressed the intentions of the board.
“Our commitment to accountability to the community holds steadfast,” Warner said. “We have made a commitment to the public and have stuck to it.”
While the district promises to be fiscally responsible, the district also will vow to remain open with district residents.
“We are going to continue to be transparent with the residents,” Harris said. “We have passed a resolution on accountability, we will continue to issue quarterly reports. We are absolutely committed to accountability.”
Harris contributes the success of the issue passage to the continuous improvement of the district and the community. The district has achieved and maintained a rating of continuous improvement on the state report card since 2004. Its graduation rate on last year’s report card dropped to 70.6 percent from the 72.9 percent rate on the 2005-2006 report card. Prior to last year’s report card, the graduation rate had slightly increased each year since the last issue was placed before voters.
“The community’s generosity is historic,” Harris said. “The community has been generous to the children, and it’s because there’s a story to tell: our graduation rate, grade card, new buildings. I think those contributed to the willingness of passing the issue.”
Westside resident and board member Gary Baker II, believes the district has already made “incredible strides” and will continue to do so. He praised the community and district for its success on the election results.
“I think it reflects a couple of things: the value that the voters in Columbus City School district place on education and also the recognition of the district keeping a promise it made prior to the last levy being placed,” Baker said. “It’s a testimony to the work of the administration. I think there’s a really good team in place and I think people are beginning to see that the administration works diligently to be good stewards of people’s money.”
Baker anticipates the board to begin planning stages immediately.
“The district immediately can plan the implementation of everything it said it was going to do after the issue was passed,” Baker said.
Harris is grateful for the opportunities to improve the district and thanked the community again.
“I want to thank the community for understanding the need to invest in children and education,” she said.