CMSD funding and budget problems: the real solution
by Jacqueline Greene
(Plain Press, December 2004) The 2004-2005 school year was looking financially bleak for the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) as the first school bell rang in August under the heavy burden of a $100 million deficit. How did the District deal with the great financial losses sure to be incurred from this deficit? They started cutting.
Eliminated were "1,140 teacher positions, 125 bus driver and attendant positions, 132 secretarial and cleaner positions, 82 assistant custodial, laborer and security officer positions, and 16 assistant principal positions, at least 61 at-will employee positions, and 13 trades positions," according to the CMSD's Fiscal Year 2005 General Fund Budget Overview. Furthermore, the CMSD cut "$1.5 million in textbooks, $5.4 million in supplemental pay, $9.6 million in transportation costs, $3.3 million in overtime pay and $12.2 million in external services."
However, it is interesting to put the entire situation into perspective. According to the 1996 Cleveland City School District Performance Audit, the debt of the CMSD was projected to reach $1.4 billion by the year 2004. Considering the financial situation of the schools over the past 8 years, it is clear that the School District has done what it can to keep itself afloat and to minimize an incredible projected debt, despite a ridiculous lack of funding.
Whether the cutting has been in the right proportions from the right departments and in the right buildings is debatable, depending on whether it’s a teacher, administrator, student, or custodial worker giving her or his opinion. After all, there was rightfully much scrutiny of the CEO in July of 2003, according to NewsNet5.com, when Barbara Byrd-Bennett “was delighted to receive [her] bonus and pointed out the $54,000 would not have offset the district's budget problems.” It’s clear that the district’s priorities are not always in the right place, especially noticing that most of the cuts directly affected students.
However, the problem remains that the cuts will continue to come. After inflation, and no new monies coming in because of the failed levy in November (which would have been a temporary fix), a dark picture is painted for the CMSD. Beneath all of the corrupt local issues, however, is the fact that the Ohio Supreme Court has found funding by local property tax to be unconstitutional 4 times. The state government must be forced to heed the rulings of the court in order for Cleveland ’s children to have a fair chance in education and in life.
Michigan is an excellent example of changes in a system formerly run on property taxes. In the spring of 1994, “voters agreed to increase the state sales tax, establish a state-wide property tax (with differential rates for homeowners and businesses), and increase the tax rates for two other small revenue sources to help replace the lost property tax revenue,” according to Richard Mattoon and William Testa, writing for Economic Perspectives. The benefits of this change are astounding; the state funding of the schools went from approximately 31% to 80% of total funding. Because such a large base of the funding is now coming from the state, as opposed to local property tax, the funding of the schools is on its way to being equalized across economic and municipal divides.
Ohio also needs such a change. It is not a change that will come from Cleveland alone. Cleveland is not the only city suffering from an unconstitutional school funding system. If Cleveland can work together with Columbus, Toledo, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron, and a plethora of “urban” suburban school districts, change can be made. Students from Beachwood, Orange, Bay Village, and many other suburbs would no longer have the incredible economic advantage over Cleveland’s students, and maybe something resembling an even playing field would eventually arise. Students would have books, teachers, and repaired buildings. Cleveland students would not be offered significantly less than students in the surrounding suburbs.
We can complain and fight the CMSD all we want, but in order for real change to happen, we have to go to the root of the funding problem in Ohio , and force the state to listen to the needs of the people and their children.
Jacqueline Greene wrote this article special for the Plain Press as part of her coursework in City as a Classroom at Case Western Reserve University . The course, taught by Professor Rhonda Williams, focused on public education this semester.
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