School Board members listen to community concerns about the levy
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2004) The Cleveland Municipal School District sponsored two community forums to learn from the public about the programs and services they would like to see restored to the school budget if the 11.4 mill levy passes on November 2 nd. About 30 people attended the forum held on Wednesday, October 14 th at Scranton Elementary School .
Cleveland School Board members Grady Burrows, Magda Gomes and Gladys Santiago hosted the meeting.
Board Member Gladys Santiago cited the “sound fiscal practices” of the Cleveland Municipal School District as a reason to trust the district with the levy money. She promised to listen to the community as to what services and programs they would like to see restored and in turn promised to “work with the State of Ohio to actively fix their system of funding public education.”
Board Member Magda Gomez cited the need for the levy to continue progress made by the school system. Gomez cited improved attendance, better graduation rates and fewer suspensions as signs of progress.
Board Member Grady Burrows said that in tough economic times it is especially important to support education. He said home values in the community are especially tied to the educational system. He said the levy was not only good for the kids, but an improved school system would benefit homeowners by increasing home values.
Kevin Burtzlaff, who serves as the Board of Education’s liaison to the administration, noted that because of House Bill 920 local property taxes are frozen at the dollar amount of the year the levy was passed. Thus the district still receives the same dollar amount each year for the last operating levy passed in 1996. However, the district’s costs continue to rise. He noted the recent extension of the teachers’ union contract. He said health care costs continue to rise. He noted that the district received some savings from the teachers’ union agreeing to greater health insurance co-payments.
Burtzlaff said the 11.4 mill tax increase would give the district the opportunity to restore programs and services and continue its progress. He said the operating levy would cost the average Cleveland homeowner $224 per year, $4.28 per week and 61¢ a day.
The board then asked members of the public to offer their input as to what programs and services to restore considering a successful.
Tim Walters, who is Chair of the Alliance for Children’s Education, a community organizer for the May Dugan Center and a grandparent of children who attend the Cleveland Public School , shared a story with the Board of Education about his concern of the impact of the levy on low-income people. Walters noted that on a recent morning at the May Dugan Center , the center’s staff began distributing food, a process that they thought would last several days. 180 people came to the center for food in the first four hours. By 1:30 pm. , he said, the food was all gone. Walters said he shared this account with the board members to emphasize that many low-income people in Cleveland “don’t have the 61¢ a day. They simply don’t have the resources” to pay for the levy, he said.
“If we are going to ask people to make a sacrifice from their scarcity”, Walters asked, “what assurances do we have that this money will be spent wisely? How do we get to say how we spend the dollars?”
Walters noted the board cut $100 million dollars from last year’s budget, but a successful levy would raise less than $70 million. Walters suggested that the board set up a committee of concerned people from the community to help establish priorities and look to planning for the future of the school system. “If we expect the community to be part of the solution, we have to involve the community in the long run. If we don’t involve people, we are asking people to put trust in how the dollars are being spent, without them playing a role in the decision-making,” said Walters.
Denise Gonzales, a parent with children at Scranton school, referred to the failure of adults to properly fund education and asked, “Why do kids have to pay for this?” Gonzales noted that both Governor Bob Taft and President George Bush said education was their first priority, yet there are not enough funds for education for our children. “I am a single mother. I have had to quit my job because transportation is not available to kids,” Gonzales said, explaining her fears about letting her children “walk to school alone through neighborhoods filled with predators”.
Ken Wilson, whose wife is a laid off Cleveland high school teacher, offered three priorities for spending the levy revenue. His first priority he said would be to hire back the teachers. “My wife taught at South High, loved it and would be back in a heartbeat if called.” He said the second priority should be safety. He said his wife was attacked three times while working at South High. Wilson said the third priority should be books. Students his wife taught, noted Wilson , “didn’t have any usable books last year.”
Sheryl Richardson, a mother of four children in the Cleveland Municipal School District said, “I don’t believe children are first here.” She complained that younger children going to school with middle school students are “forced to see things too soon,” describing an incident where her four-year-old witnessed older children smoking in the bathroom at Charles Mooney K-8 School.
Richardson described the extreme difficulty she faces each morning trying to get four children to four different schools by 8 AM . She said she has tried for over a year to get two middle school children going to schools in different parts of town into one school. Her request has been denied. Citing her fear of predators and “streets that are ten times more dangerous” than when she was a child, Richardson asked, “What promises and guarantees do we have for the safety of our children?” Richardson said that, because of the refusal of the transfer, she is spending $45 a month on a bus pass, “money I don’t have.”
She noted peeling paint in schools despite the passage of a bond issue, and that tax dollars paid for Gund Arena, granting entertainment more importance than children. “Where is the community between board and parents?” she asked, noting that promises made with the previous bond issue were not kept. She wondered if next year the promises currently being made for Issue 112 would be broken.
Board members present asked that administration staff follow up on Richardson ’s concerns.
Tim Walters of the May Dugan Center described to the board efforts of a number of community organizations to hold community meetings and survey parents on the impact of transportation cuts. From their efforts, the organizers learned that there was a lack of response by the school district to concerns and issues raised by parents of special needs children and a number of members of the Hispanic Community, he said.
He also stressed that the district’s decision to no longer provide children with transportation to day care has created a hardship for parents. A number of day care centers have lost significant numbers of children, at least two day care centers have closed down. Some parents have resorted to paying a taxi or a friend to transport their children so they can continue to work. Others report quitting their jobs because they can’t manage to get their children to day care.”
“What really scares me,” said Walters, “is parents who have to leave children home alone and are not willing to come forward because they feel they will be viewed as bad parents.” Walters promised to get a report of the community’s findings to the Board of Education prior to the board’s November Work Session.
Shirley Harris, a parent whose child attends a school in the West Park neighborhood, expressed concern about three classrooms in her child’s school that had over forty kids and only one teacher. She called the overcrowding “very disruptive,” and said “teaching was not going on as it should.” She asked the board members, “Are you going to do something about it?” Board member Magda Gomez, whose child attends the same school, asked that the board’s liaison Kevin Burtzlaff check with the district’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Rebecca Lowry to see what options are available.
School Board member Gladys Santiago said she is a single parent who is serving as a volunteer on the school board. Although she is unemployed, and not sure where the money is going to come from, she said, she will be supporting Issue 112 because she knows it is important to the children. “ We are the voice, to give our children a voice on November 2 nd.
Magda Gomez said “Some questions have been asked about what is going to be restored with the levy.” Gomez assured the crowd that tutoring programs and direct instruction would be the first to be restored from Issue 112 funds.
Parent Denise Gonzales said, “We (adults) have already finished school. We don’t need this. The children need this. They are in need of teachers so they can be somebody in the future. It is in your hands so they can be somebody in the future.”
Board Member Grady Burrows urged those in attendance to attend the Board of Education meeting at Walton Elementary on Tuesday, October 19 th. He said that Issue 112 was the only chance for the district now. The solution to the severe stance of the state legislature is at least several years away, he said. He urged Clevelanders to raise their consciousness about candidates when they vote on November 2 nd. He urged them to vote on the state and federal level for candidates committed to addressing the concerns of children.
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