Proposed levy expenditures outlined
at Cleveland Board of Education meeting

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, November 2004) At its October 19th meeting at Walton Elementary School the Cleveland Board of Education shared its plan on how it would spend money generated by the 11.4 mill school levy if the levy should pass on November 2nd.


NEWS ANALYSIS

The Cleveland Municipal School District ’s (CMSD) $165 million plan for expenditure of levy proceeds over the next 30 months is based on estimated collections of $66 million per year. District Chief Financial Officer Ebert Johnson said the plan should take the district through to the 2008 fiscal year (the 2007-2008 school year).

Beginning in January of 2005, the CMSD’s $165 million plan calls for spending only $29.76 million in new or restored programs. The remainder of the projected $165 million is reserved for preventing further cuts based on projected deficits of $24.5 million in the 2005-2006 school year and $94 million in the 2006-2007 school year.

An administration document handed out at the October 19 board meeting notes that revenues from a school levy do not increase with inflation. The document also states, “The District estimates that generally programs, personnel, service and goods increase at a rate of 3% annually.”

At the board meeting the Plain Press inquired as to whether part of the projected deficits were a result of projected raises to staff. (According to district estimates 86% of its budget is composed of personnel costs.) No satisfactory answer was received at the board meeting. Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett instructed her staff to call the Plain Press to answer this and other questions about the budget. The Plain Press did not receive a call back in time for this publication.

Given the administration and the Board of Education’s past practices, it can be safely assumed raises are part of the projected deficits for the next two school years. Part of last year’s projected $60 million deficit included a 3% raise for teaching staff. Even when the Board of Education learned that a combination of revenue reductions and an increase in health care cost would add another $40 million to its deficit, the raises were still given. The raise was given despite the fact that the board had the option to choose not to renew the teachers’ contract for last year. As a result of the pay raise the budget cuts were more devastating than they had to be.



New or restored programs

Planned spending for the $29.76 million in new or restored programs over the 2 1/2 year period beginning January 2005 includes the following items according to documents provided by administration at the Board of Education meeting:

$12.23 million proposed for teachers and academic programs. Listed under this category are the following programs: summer school, smaller class size (high school transformation), tutoring, arts program, bilingual programs and early childhood (pre-k) programs.

$10 million for purchase of textbooks: $4 million in the 2005-06 school year and $6 million in the 2007-08 school year, targeted to “materials and textbooks necessary to support the Cleveland Literacy Reading Program at the elementary grades, and Science, Mathematics and Foreign Language at other grades as the district finalizes its inventory.”

$2.5 million would be allocated for some essential transportation. The district says, “Spending would be targeted to individual students who have suffered the most severe hardships as a result of the transportation changes this year. Exceptional circumstances could include identified students who ride RTA, and live just within the 2 mile zone or who receive special transfers.”

$3 million has been set aside for improved technology. The district says it will use the funds for computer upgrades, servers and necessary technical support. It may be able to use the dollars to leverage other funds to acquire even more computers.

The Board of Education proposes to spend $1,805,000 to restore baseball and softball programs in the district.

$225,000 is planned for School Parent Organization (SPO) support/parent training: This amount includes money for a leadership academy for SPO officers. It also includes funds for workshops, meetings and seminars to help parents support their children in the Cleveland Literacy System, plus funds to make dedicated school-based resources available to parents to help improve student outcomes.


Saved Programs

According to the administration, the following cuts will be postponed or avoided if the levy passes on November 2 nd :

$6.5 million will be used to preserve existing programs that help student retention and graduation, such as Seniors Only Summer School, the 3 mile walk zone for high school students, the Cleveland Scholarship Program, All-City Arts Program and other extracurricular activities.

$24.5 million will be used to postpone closing of schools that are deemed excess capacity because of declining enrollment. The school closings, scheduled as part of the district’s rebuilding plan, will be accelerated if the levy fails.

$78.7 million will be used to avoid additional staff layoffs. The district notes its largest expense (86% of the budget) is for base salary and benefits for employees. (This amounts to $512.5 million of the total general fund budget of $600.3 million).

$25.5 million of the levy money will be retained for safe and secure schools by maintaining the district’s beefed-up security program and alternative schools for children with discipline problems.


Public Input

After waiting two hours for the board work session and sitting through another two hours of student performances and various awards to community members, citizens were able to finally address the board for two minutes each.

Citizen activist Gene Tracy called on the Board of Education to make Cleveland ’s corporate citizens and wealthier citizens pay their fair share before going to the taxpayers of the poorest city in the nation for funds. He noted that the owners of the Cleveland Browns are receiving a tax abatement for the stadium. He said the district should ask MBNA to pay $2 million a year for its advertisement on the stadium in exchange for the tax abatement. He said if Browns’ owners were able to give a $16.5 million signing bonus to Kelvin Winslow, they should be able to come up with $2 million a year for the schools.

Tracy urged the board to support Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis’ effort to get the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals to voluntarily pay property tax (they currently claim an exemption for providing indigent care as non-profit hospitals). Tracy also noted a recent Plain Dealer article that points out the $17 million a year of the school district’s money that the city of Cleveland has given away in business and residential tax abatements.

Tracy said that passage of the levy means that senior citizens may have to go without food or prescription drugs to pay their taxes. “Before I would go to them, I would make sure our corporations pay their fair share,” said Tracy .

A parent of a child at H. Barbara Booker Montessori Center talked about the impact of the Cleveland Municipal School District ’s contract with the Cleveland Teachers’ Union on her child’s school. She said teachers laid off at Booker were replaced with non-Montessori trained teachers. The parent, a former teacher, said Booker lost 8 Montessori- trained teachers last year. If the levy fails, the school expects to loose two more, leaving it with only five Montessori-trained teachers.

A former high school history teacher and coach was transferred to Booker to replace her fifth grade child’s teacher who was laid off. “My child’s grades have suffered. He comes home with no homework. I am appalled with what has happened”, said the parent. She felt union rules meant that specially-trained teachers were replaced by others without that training but higher seniority. CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett said unfortunately the Cleveland Teacher’s Union contract is “duly legal.” Byrd Bennett’s suggested instead that her staff needed to convene a meeting with the principal. She if the school’s policy was to provide homework and homework was not being given “we need to have a talk with the principal.”

One teacher looking for a larger percentage of the laid off teachers to be called back left the meeting in disgust after the board failed to explain in understandable terms why so much of the projected revenue would be devoted to covering projected deficits. The board failed to itemize those projected deficits. In addition to the 3% across the board budget increase (about $18 million) the district gave some hints as to where the deficit would come from, such as plans to create four new schools and less money due from the state due to large losses of students (about $5,000 less for every student lost). Declining corporate taxes and corporation requests for property tax reductions could also explain portions of the projected deficits.

However, devoting only $12.23 million over 30 months to teachers, class size reduction, academic programs and instructional services will bring back very few of those teachers laid off last year. Last year the board sent layoff notices to 1,140 teachers to realize a projected budget reduction of $60.48 million. Under the proposed budget, most individual school staffs and special programs disrupted by the layoffs have little hope of regaining lost staff members.

 

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